For the past forty years, Williams & Connolly has represented clients involved in virtually every aspect of the business of sports. The firm’s sports legacy reaches back to the late 1960s, when firm founder Edward Bennett Williams took over the running of the Washington Redskins and, a decade later, became owner of the Baltimore Orioles. Clients have come to the firm for general business advice and representation, for assistance in negotiating contracts, leases, and league structures, and for specific advice on setting up and operating businesses in the sports industry in general and in specific sports leagues and circuits of events in particular. The primary reason those in the sports industry have come to the firm in recent years has been for representation in major litigation and arbitration disputes. We also handle radio, television, and cable broadcast agreements, stadium leases and stadium construction agreements, advertising and sponsorship agreements, collective bargaining agreements and player arbitration.

Our partners are also active in the field outside the firm. Senior partner Mark Levinstein is co-author of one of the leading sports law casebooks, has taught sports law classes as an adjunct professor at The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law, the George Washington University National Law Center, the Georgetown University Law Center, the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, and the University of Virginia School of Law; he is a regular speaker on sports law issues at conferences and symposiums on a nationwide basis; and he is the Founder and Chair of Athletes for Hope, one of the leading multi-sport sports philanthropy public charities in the United States.

Today, the firm's practice covers a number of different areas of sports law.

Sports Controversies

We focus on an array of legal areas and business issues involving athletes and sports-related businesses in a variety of sports. Our controversy-related representation involves everything from negotiating contracts to handling contract disputes, from major litigation ending in trials to contested arbitrations, from mediation to negotiation to avoid litigation, to strikes and lockouts and unfair labor practice charges in labor disputes.

The firm’s multi-dimensional representation includes amateur, Olympic, and professional athletes, players' associations and unions, sports teams and their owners, leagues and organizations of league properties, sports associations, national Olympic committees, national governing bodies, sport sponsors and licensees, universities, college and professional coaches and executives, sports agents, sports management companies and producers of sports events, youth sports organizations, owners of sports facilities and boxing managers and promoters. We have been involved in matters concerning professional baseball, basketball, boxing, fast pitch softball, football, golf, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, and volleyball, and multiple amateur, collegiate, and Olympic sports, such as bobsled, boxing, cycling, equestrian sports, fencing, figure skating, gymnastics, sailing, skiing, swimming, taekwondo, track and field, and wrestling.

Sports Business Planning and Transactions

As a result of our sports industry experience, start-up leagues and circuits, teams, team owners, sponsors and others sports organizations and businesses have come to the firm for business counseling, contract negotiations, collective bargaining and deals that have included substantial corporate transactions. Please also refer to a description of the firm's representation of sports organizations in transactional sports matters under Transactions and Business Counseling.

Diverse Legal Subject Matter as Applied to the Business of Sports

Our firm-wide experience includes many areas that are applicable to our sports practice, including antitrust, contracts, corporate law, the law of partnerships and limited liability companies, real estate, estate planning and tax law, franchise law, intellectual property, internet issues, labor law, constitutional law, criminal law, RICO, unfair competition and other common law torts. In addition, our lawyers also provide guidance and counsel on the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 and 1966, federal laws concerning gambling, sports gambling and sports lotteries, and state laws governing sports agent registration.

Representative Experience

The types of sports-related matters for which individuals and businesses have come to the firm include:

  • Disputes between or among owners of major and minor league professional teams and their leagues or owners of facilities where the teams play their games. Disputes between owners of sports facilities and the teams, leagues and event producers that hold events in their facilities.
  • Disputes between event producers and circuits of events, such as the ATP World Tennis Tour or PGA Golf Tour.
  • Disputes between athletes and their teams, sponsors, licensees, leagues, circuits of events and international and national governing bodies, such as the International Olympic Committee, United States Anti-Doping Agency, United States Olympic Committee, and World Anti-Doping Association.
  • Disputes concerning the rights of athletes to participate in international competitions.
  • The launch of a new professional sports league or a circuit of events.
  • Efforts by groups of athletes to promote themselves collectively or to further their position as a group in disputes or cooperative activity with the teams and sports businesses that employ them.
  • Arbitration of contractual disputes involving coaches, general managers, team presidents, scouts and other front office personnel in major league sports.
  • Contract negotiations, and other business matters for professional, collegiate and Olympic coaches and sports broadcasters.
  • Advice concerning sponsorship and licensing having to do with athletes, sports organizations, and other businesses involved in sports.
  • Negotiation of agreements with college coaches and other sports personnel related to the rules and regulations of the National Collegiate Athletic Association and conferences in collegiate sports.
  • The sale or acquisition of major league and minor league sports teams and franchises.
  • Negotiation of radio, television and cable contracts for professional and collegiate sports teams.
  • Stadium and arena development, planning, construction and leasing.
  • Advice to universities about coaching contracts, conference agreements and conference realignment, compliance with state and federal laws and NCAA and college conference rules and policies, including issues related to the antitrust laws, labor law, the NCAA transfer portal, “collectives,” the licensing of athlete names, images and likenesses, and other issues related to their sports programs.

Recent firm representations include:

  • Represented a player’s association/union in arbitration concerning the use of player likenesses in sponsors' promotional posters and on jerseys and other apparel.
  • Successful representation of a media company and sports network in putative class action alleging Lanham Act violations and violation of a right of publicity.
  • Represented the United States National Soccer Team Players Association in the landmark negotiation of collective bargaining agreements with the United States Soccer Federation that yielded equal pay to the members of the US Men’s and Women’s National Soccer Teams.
  • Successfully defended a national television broadcaster against right-of-publicity claims relating to the broadcasting of NCAA football and basketball games, brought on behalf of a putative class of college athletes. The trial court dismissed the complaint with prejudice, a ruling affirmed on appeal.
  • Successfully represented clients in a commercial arbitration that resulted in winning $10 million for the Baltimore Orioles and naming rights to Camden Yards.
  • Represented a professional sports team and several of its senior personnel in connection with an investigation of events related to a league’s handling of issues related to a professional athlete’s “off the field” conduct.
  • Represented a professional baseball team with respect to a relocation dispute.
  • Represented a sports league in responding to a congressional inquiry.
  • Represented an NFL player in a dispute in state court and arbitration concerning fees under an endorsement agreement allegedly misappropriated by his agent.
  • Represented NFL coaches and an NFL team executive in arbitration against their former teams.
  • Represented a sports management company in contract negotiations to operate an ATP and WTA Tour tennis event for sponsorship, television, and event management.
  • Represented a major University in connection with its Head Football Coach employment agreement.
  • Represented an NFL coach in arbitration related to disciplinary action taken by the NFL Commissioner concerning allegations of misconduct by players and coaches at his former NFL team.
  • Represented a minority owner of a professional sports team in connection with the sale of that minority interest.
  • Represented a professional sports team in connection with efforts to build a new stadium in the team’s current home territory or to relocate to a new stadium in a new city.
  • Representing minor league professional sports teams in connection with negotiations with a major league sports league.

Law360 Recognizes Williams & Connolly as a 2023 “Firm of the Year”

Law360 Recognizes Williams & Connolly as a 2023 “Firm of the Year”
back to top