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Sports Lawyers Association outreach programme - Boston Update

SLA Boston
Thursday, 30 January 2014

In addition to its annual conference, members of the Sports Lawyers Association (“SLA”) have organized local outreach events since 2006, with the most recent being in Boston on December 3, 2013, and the next one being in Los Angeles on February 21, 2014.

LawInSport supports the work of the SLA by sharing its news to LawInSport's international sports law community (15,000 monthly readers).

The recent event in Boston exemplifies the SLA's grass roots series. A roundtable discussion was held at the TD Garden, where both the Boston Celtics and the Boston Bruins play, which centered on the current and future legal and business issues facing Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.

The panelists at the Boston event were Ed Weiss, the Executive Vice President of Corporate Strategy and General Counsel for the Fenway Sports Group, which includes the Boston Red Sox and the Liverpool Football Club; and Mike Zarren, the Assistant General Manager and Team Counsel for the Boston Celtics. Mike McCann, Legal Analyst and Writer for Sports Illustrated and the Director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute and Professor of Law at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, moderated the event.

McCann raised a wide range of sports law topics in his questions. Some of the highlights of the discussion were when Weiss and Zarren weighed in on the following subjects:


The Potential Suspension of Alex Rodriguez and his Contract Security

McCann pressed Weiss on whether the Yankees might try and void the remainder of A-Rod's contract in the event that his suspension were upheld by Fredric Horowitz, the arbitrator who ruled on A-Rod's grievance against Major League Baseball. The argument for justifying such a move would be that A-Rod materially breached his contract by engaging in conduct that would subject him to a year-long suspension. Weiss did not want to speculate on that scenario, but he indicated that he would not be surprised if the Yankees took that position.

Interestingly, Weiss pointed out that although the Red Sox and Yankees are the fiercest of rivals on the field, their respective front offices share many characteristics in the way they approach their off the field missions.


TV Rights

There was much discussion about the variety of ways that fans can and will consume sports programming. Weiss predicted that rights fees would continue to remain strong due to the unique drama of sporting events. Similarly, Zarren opined that since sports are practically DVR-proof, advertisers will continue to favor sports programming as one of their top choices for their marketing investments, which will keep rights fees high.

In terms of opportunities for growth, Zarren focused on China, and he recalled the moment when he realized how significant that potential was (learning that over 300 million people in China had tuned in to watch a Monday night regular season NBA game between Milwaukee and Houston that featured Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian).


NBA Expansion

McCann asked about NBA expansion, and specifically, whether the NBA will expand to Seattle. Zarren believes that Europe will be the next frontier. Domestically, he thinks that Seattle will remain the top candidate for expansion, but noted a specific team's destination is usually up to the team's owners, rather than to the league as a whole. Zarren cautioned, however, that he does not envision NBA expansion within the next five years. He thought the possibility of NBA expansion was somewhat higher within the next 10 years, but had no specific information on any expansion. Zarren reasoned that in the short term, it would be more likely for a team to relocate to Seattle than it would be for the NBA to add a team there.


Collective Bargaining

Regarding the work stoppage prior to the 2011-2012 NBA season, Zarren mentioned that the negotiations among the NBA owners might have been more contentious than those between the owners and the players. He also explained how the teams were still digesting the new rules, seeing how the new marketplace develops, and exploring ways to take advantage of the new rules on contracts and trades.

Weiss commented on how Michael Weiner, the former Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association ("MLBPA") who recently succumbed to a battle with brain cancer, was universally respected and would be difficult to replace, given how instrumental he was in helping Major League Baseball and the MLBPA build a relationship that had fostered an unprecedented streak of recent labor peace. Fortunately, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement runs through Dec. 1, 2016.


Richie Incognito / Player Relations

Not surprisingly, Zarren stated that the Celtics have not had to deal with an explosive and controversial issue like the one involving the Miami Dolphins, Richie Incognito, and Jonathan Martin. Instead, their recent focus has been on rebuilding trust between the players and management following the 2011 work stoppage.


NBA Eligibility

Zarren pointed out that although the owners pushed for a lengthier mandatory transition period from high school to the NBA (currently it is one year), the final agreement represented a compromise between the owners and the players (who wanted no minimum age).

The event, which was sponsored by Nixon Peabody LLP, attracted attendees ranging from Boston-area law students from schools including the University of New Hampshire and Suffolk, to Paul Kelly, the former Executive Director of the National Hockey League Players Association.

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