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Sports Law Scoreboard

An Inside Look Into The Legal and Business Side of Sports

Stiffed on the Bill — A-Rod Gets Sued By His Lawyers

Posted in Sports Business and the Law

Alex Rodriguez

 

For a litigator and lifelong sports fan, nothing could be more exciting than the confluence of baseball and the law.  Even something as mundane as a simple collections matter takes on new meaning when it’s baseball’s erstwhile mega-star and youngest player to 500 home runs, Alex Rodriguez, refusing to pay a $380,000 tab.

In August 2013, Major League Baseball suspended Rodriguez for a total of 211 regular-season games for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.  Rodriguez retained sports lawyer, David Cornwell, and his firm, Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani, LLP – commonly known as Gordon & Rees – to represent him in his appeal of the suspension.  Mr. Cornwell is known as the “go to” lawyer for athletes in trouble, having obtained a successful result for Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers in an arbitration involving elevated testosterone levels.

According to the twelve-page, five-count civil complaint filed by Gordon & Rees against Rodriguez in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Rodriguez entered into a fee agreement with Gordon & Rees in which he agreed to pay a standard hourly rate of $400 for partners, and $225-$375 for associates.  Gordon & Rees alleges that this is a “fraction” of the rates charged by other lawyers retained by Rodriguez in connection with his suspension.

Cornwell hit the ground running, staking out an aggressive and controversial position for his client.  Over the next eight months, Gordon & Rees purportedly spent thousands of attorney and staff hours on what it dubs “one of the most high-stakes sports litigations in history.”  The Complaint further alleges that, despite numerous oral and written promises from Rodriguez and his representatives that all legal accounts would be paid, Rodriguez failed to pay more than $380,000 in legal fees.  The services are purportedly detailed in “painstaking detail” in 128 pages of invoices provided to Rodriguez.  (The invoices are not, however, attached to the Complaint.)

The Complaint alleges that Rodriguez received instructions from his adviser, Desiree Perez of Roc Nation LLC, “not to pay the invoices, and to make Gordon & Rees sue” him.  Roc Nation is an entertainment company founded in 2008 by hip hop artist Jay-Z with a boutique sports division representing CC Sabathia, Robinson Cano, and Kevin Durant, among others.  Sports fans and followers of the Rodriguez saga may recognize Perez as an influential figure in Rodriguez’s decision to fight the suspension.

The Complaint asserts five counts against Rodriguez for breach of contract, quantum meruit, unjust enrichment, promissory estoppel, account stated, and specific performance.  Gordon & Rees seeks damages in the amount of $380,058.91, together with pre-judgment interest, costs, and attorneys’ fees.  Assuming the matter is not settled prior to trial, the final verdict or award could end up being substantially more expensive for A-Rod than anticipated.

 

Are Hot Dogs A Part Of Baseball?: Missouri Supremes Limit Mascot Actions

Posted in Sports Business and the Law

slugger

Recently, the Missouri Supreme Court asked a simple question:  What should you expect when you go to a baseball game?

How did this come about?  The story is stranger than you think.  The scene:  The Kansas City Royals’ Kauffman Stadium.  The culprit:  The Royals’ erstwhile mascot, “Sluggerrr.”  Among Sluggerrr’s many duties is the manning of a high-pressure hot dog-launching gun (seen above), which he uses to shoot mystery-meat wieners to about 20 to 30 lucky fans each game.

However, one such fan, John Coomer, was not so lucky.  Sluggerrr, either out of boredom or hubris, decided to execute a behind-the-back shot.  The dog flew into the air and headed right for Mr. Coomer’s face, resulting in a severe eye injury that required multiple surgeries.  Coomer sued.

In their defense, the Royals put forth a simple assertion:  Mr. Coomer assumed the risk of being hit with a hot dog by dint of attending a professional baseball game.  After all, it’s well established that spectators assume the risk of being hit with balls and bats, so why not comestibles as well?

The Missouri Supremes disagreed, writing that being hit with a hot dog by a mascot is not an “inherent risk” of watching a baseball game.  “Millions of fans have watched the Royals (and its forebears in professional baseball) play the National Pastime for the better part of a century before Sluggerrr began tossing hotdogs, and millions more people watch professional baseball every year in stadiums all across the country without the benefit of such antics.”

This seems a bit short-sighted.  While mascots throwing things into crowds is certainly a newer invention, there is no question that nowadays it is ubiquitous, and, dare I say it, expected, by many folks who head out to the ballpark these days.  Indeed, between video screens, inter-inning foot races, blaring music, and everything else going on, sometimes you’d be hard-pressed to know there was baseball being played at all.

The court’s dream of a back-to-basics baseball game experience – with maybe a little bit of organ music thrown in – isn’t a bad idea.  But it doesn’t mean they got this one right.

Taking The Bite Out Of Soccer; Should Suarez Be Suspended?

Posted in Sports Business and the Law

suarez-vampire

Well, he has been.

In law, there used to be a “one free bite” rule for dogs. One bite, no liability, next, you are on the hook as an owner. We would humbly suggest such a rule for international football. It is not just unseemly, it is downright dangerous, a bad example for kids, and no way to run a sport.

This Mr. S’s second offense and we would think that something more than a multi-game ban and an apology are needed. He should be fined and suspended for at least a year. Third strike, he would be out.

Chuck Noll: Timing is Everything

Posted in Sports Business and the Law

Noll

Chuck Noll just died at 82.

Noll was the coach of the best football team of my lifetime, the Steel Curtain Pittsburgh Steelers of the mid-seventies.  What has been lost in the intervening years is that he turned down the head coach job the first time it was offered to him a few years before.  Why?  He thought he was not ready.  A very wise man.

As in life, so in law, or at least law management.  I took on the managing partner role at my former firm when the predecessor bailed to join a dot com.  Without details, I was not ready.  Too young and inexperienced.  At Fox, with seasoning, I was given the opportunity and we grew the office from two attorneys to forty.  Pick your moments, as Mr. Noll did.

A Study In Contrasts: Battier v. McCants

Posted in Sports Business and the Law

battiermccants

Oh boy, we are shocked that student athletes would not go to class.

As heard on The Herd and featured in SI Online and ESPN.com, former UNC player Rashon McCants recants any claim to have been a student while an athlete at the University of North Carolina.  On The Herd, the host boldly said that he does not put on college students from other than about 10 schools, including my alma mater, UCLA, because they are not up to the task.  Duke was on his list as well.

On the same day, Shane Battier announced that he is going to retire after the Finals this year, and be a college basketball analyst for ESPN.  What a study in contrasts.  What is exceptional about Battier is that he has always been considered for things such as public service and political office.  This is not about public shame for anyone or any one institution.  What it does illustrate is that college is not for everyone and the NCAA should consider a structure that does not make hypocrites out of everyone involved.

Raging Court Round Two; Implications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision

Posted in Sports Business and the Law

Glove

I am reminded for better and worse of the Court’s decision on the Bill Clinton/Paula Jones case.  The majority opinion said that the litigation would not be an undue burden on the Presidency.  Hindsight is 20/20.

In ruling that laches does not apply to copyright claims, the Court did not completely consider the implications of its ruling, while the dissent presented a parade of horribles.  The truth?  It likely lies somewhere in between.

What we do know is that the lead singer of Led Zep has filed suit for a credit on Stairway to Heaven and there is a new suit regarding Spiderman.  Is this just the start?  It’s going to be very interesting to see what follows.

To be continued . . .

Raging Court; SCOTUS Decides That Laches Does Not Apply To Copyright Cases

Posted in Sports Business and the Law

boxer connecting knockout punch

 

“Raging Bull”  is considered by most critics to be one of the finest, if not the finest American movie of the 80s.  It’s also probably the best sports film of all time, a biopic of a boxer named Jake LaMotta.

LaMotta was a practitioner of the sweet science in the ’50s.  A relative recently filed suit claiming profits from the film, and, while the statute of limitations had not expired for technical reasons, the studio invoked laches to get rid of the case.  For those not in the know, laches is an equitable (read: fairness) doctrine that, for lack of better explanation, comes under the heading of “Oh, come on!  It’s not fair to sue after all these years!”

Apparently the Supreme Court of the United States disagrees.  The case was reported on last week at the Los Angeles Copyright Society and I would warrant that 2/3s of the attendees thought that the studio would win.  Not so, just said our highest court.  The opinion will be analyzed here in coming days, so stay tuned.

What Happens Next: The Legal Effects of Donald Sterling’s Ban

Posted in Privacy Issues, Sports Business and the Law

the-nba-world-reacts-to-donald-sterling-getting-banned-for-life

 

Will Sterling appeal?  Will there be legal consequences for V. Stiviano?  What are the rights of the Clippers’ players?  I had the opportunity to provide my thoughts to Anna Gallegos of LBXN earlier today:

Clippers Owner Donald Sterling Hit with Ban and Fine, but Legal Battle with NBA Looms

We’ll be following the aftermath of Sterling’s ban here at the Sports Law Scoreboard over the days and weeks to come; stay tuned.

Sterling v. Silver: Lessons Not Learned In Childhood

Posted in Sports Business and the Law

DonaldSterling_Clippers_2014_USAT1boyle-vIctory-house

The sentence has been announced:  A lifetime ban for Donald Sterling.  Now, the legal dance will begin.

One interesting point in all this is that Donald Sterling was raised in Boyle Heights. During his childhood, that neighborhood in Los Angeles was one great melting pot.  My grandfather lived there.  On any given day, walking down the street, you would see Russian priests, orthodox Rabbis, many Latinos, and a smattering of African Americans.  That Sterling did not learn tolerance and brotherhood is, of course, inexcusable.  The tools for doing so were right in front of him.

Region 13 of NLRB Concludes That Northwestern’s Scholarship Football Players are Employees under the National Labor Relations Act and Entitled to Organize and Bargain Collectively with the University Part II of II

Posted in Sports Business and the Law

stock-footage-businessman-in-suit-and-red-tie-holding-a-football

Let me start this second half by saying that the author of this decision, Regional Director Peter Ohr, is a law school classmate of mine for whom I have tremendous respect. That said, I think the Region made a mistake in directing an election in this case and it is my hope that Northwestern appeals the decision and that the Board overrules the Direction of Election.

However, I strongly doubt this will happen given the Board’s recent efforts to expand it relevancy. My first problem with the decision is that I think the analysis obscures the fact that scholarship players, like the walk-ons and graduate assistants, are primarily students. For the vast majority of the players, the scholarship is simply a means to finance their educations and hopefully to enjoy a sport they love. The vast majority will never make professional football their livelihood and do not enter college expecting to become a professional athlete. That their scholarship could be revoked if they voluntarily quit the team should not be critical in the analysis. What would happen to a graduate assistant who received tuition and a stipend where research or teaching was tied to the scholarship? They too would likely lose the scholarship unless it was a needs based scholarship. Nor should the fact that the players devote a significant portion of their time in football-related services. The only reason they are eligible to play football is because they are enrolled at the school. If the player quits the school they also forfeit their scholarship and cannot play for the school irrespective of their willingness to do so. Thus, these players are not employees in the ordinary sense of the word.

My second reason for disagreeing with the Region’s Direction of Election is that concluding that the scholarship players are primarily employees entitled to organize will almost surely cripple college sports. Not just Northwestern football or NCAA Division 1A football, but all NCAA Division 1 programs that provide athletic scholarships as the schools may soon be obligated to bargain with their scholarship players over the terms and conditions of their alleged “employment” in the scholarship sport. Eventually, the players will demand more lucrative compensation for their services—not just tuition, room and board. Should this happen, universities will have less money to fund other sports that are not revenue generators. This will likely result in schools fielding fewer varsity sports as the cost of fielding as many teams in the past will be prohibitive, particularly if the Board concludes that athletic scholarship players in non-revenue generating sports are also employees entitled to organize. The Region’s current decision if allowed to stand may also cause serious problems with Title IX absent the schools simply giving up athletic scholarships. Beyond, the impact on college sports, will the Region’s decision ultimately result in the schools having to bargain with their players over the players academic lives. For instance, will hours required for a degree, grading, and course requirements also be subject to bargaining with the university? Clearly to the extent these players are also students and their employer is the school, why wouldn’t this be a required subject of bargaining?

I think the Board would be better off declining to assert jurisdiction and ordering an election in this instance.