Red Bull North America GC: 'There's No Such Thing as a Sports Lawyer'

"There's no such thing as a sports lawyer," Kuri said at the Berkeley Law Sports and Society Conference Friday. "There are only lawyers that have sports entities as clients."

Red Bull North America Inc. general counsel Jorge Carlos Kuri. (Photo: Jason Doiy/The Recorder)

At a full-day conference devoted to athletics and the law, during a panel of attorneys who easily could be called "sports lawyers," Red Bull North America Inc. general counsel Jorge Carlos Kuri had a different take on his job.

"There's no such thing as a sports lawyer," Kuri said at the Berkeley Law Sports and Society Conference Friday. "There are only lawyers that have sports entities as clients."

Kuri spoke to a group of law students in a sweeping conference space at UC Berkeley's Memorial Stadium. He was joined by the general counsel of the Pac-12 Conference and the Los Angeles 2024 Olympic bid, as well as an in-house counsel for GoPro Inc.

As the panelists discussed their organizations' revenue models and details of their jobs, it seems Kuri's statements weren't far off the mark. All panelists agreed that, despite representing and sponsoring athletes, there is much more to their jobs than touchdowns and tailgates.

For these sports lawyers, sports law is a mix of marketing, digital rights agreements, sponsorships and predictive modeling—but not a lot of sports.

Woodie Dixon, GC of the Pac-12 Conference—which includes college football teams in Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Washington—said much of his organization's revenue comes from media rights agreements with publishers and broadcasters such as ESPN and Fox. He said the organization also negotiates sponsorship agreements with outside business partners, but because the group is representing student athletes, the nature of the agreements is a little different.

There isn't necessarily a superstar, such as Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, to focus advertisements around, Dixon said. Instead, companies will enter partnership agreements with the Pac-12 because they like the brand and the organization's commitment to its students. Dixon said all the revenue the Pac-12 generates goes back to the schools to fund coaches, nutritional programs and tutors.

Brett Hirsch, in-house counsel at GoPro, said his job includes negotiating marketing and sponsorship agreements with professional athletes. He said the company's main product, a camera that is able to record through rigorous sports such as skydiving, rafting, and surfing, has changed the way the company approaches sponsorships.

"Instead of just seeing a logo, we try to partner with organizations [to use the camera]," Hirsch said.

Using the camera to create video content means Hirsch also works on digital media rights, he explained, which involves negotiating when and how GoPro will push out athlete-recorded videos on its social media channels.

GoPro's professional athlete sponsorships roster includes snowboarding Olympic gold medalist Shaun White and 11-time World Surf League Champion Kelly Slater.

Brian Nelson, general counsel for the Los Angeles 2024 Olympics Bid, appeared to have the most numbers-driven duties of the group. Part of his organization's job is to predict what the sponsorship market for the Olympic games will look like in seven years, and whether revenue generated from that predicted market will be enough to run the games, without the city of Los Angeles having to compensate for any deficiency.

"Hosting the Olympics costs between $4 billion and $5 billion, just delivering the games," Nelson said. "If we don't generate enough revenue to do that, then the city of Los Angeles is on the hook for the shortfall. The city of Los Angeles is interested in not being on the hook for any of that shortfall."

Most of the action for the lawyers on Friday's panel comes off of the field, but that's fine, at least with Dixon. As he put it, sometimes he doesn't even want to go to local games that he gets tickets to as part of his job.

"My kid will ask me on the weekend, 'Can we go to the Raiders? Can we go to the 49ers?" Dixon said, noting that his children have full sports schedules themselves. "I say: 'No. We're exhausted.'"

Originally published on The Recorder. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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David Ruiz

David Ruiz is the in-house counsel reporter for the San Francisco-based legal affairs paper The Recorder. Ruiz has written for The Sacramento Bee,...

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