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Sports Law 101: Corporate & Commercial law

Whilst some lawyers specialise solely in “Sports Law” it is, for a considerable part, the exercise and application of certain elements of the discipline of corporate & commercial law which plays a crucial role.

Corporate & commercial law is particularly pertinent because, like it or not, sports is big business and the same advice a business might receive applies equally to governing bodies, associations, clubs, owners, sponsors, intermediaries (agents) and of course players – who, in the upper echelons of certain sports, are essentially businesses in themselves.

How does Corporate and Commercial law affect sport?

This area encompasses a wide range of legal issues including the negotiation and drafting of agreements which involve complex legal terms and conditions that require expert legal advice to ensure that they are fair, enforceable, and in compliance with relevant laws and regulations.

Additionally, corporate and commercial law plays a key role in sports-related transactions, such as mergers and acquisitions, endorsement, and intellectual property transactions. These require careful legal analysis and drafting to ensure that all parties are protected and that any transaction complies with relevant legal and regulatory requirements.

Distilling it down even further, instead of a transaction where someone buys a business selling widgets, one might buy a sports club or agency. Or instead of a star in the world of music or entertainment endorsing a product, a brand may want a sportsperson - commonly seen as an organic influencer - to promote requiring specific endorsement agreements.

The legal structure chosen for sporting entities and organisations impacts issues such as liability, taxation, and governance, all within the realm of corporate and commercial law. This area is also critical in relation to sports-related transactions, such as the purchase of a team or the acquisition of broadcasting rights.

Skills of a Sports Lawyer

Sports lawyers need to be excellent at drafting, capable of dealing with high profile and HNW clients, adept at marrying commercial advice with technical legal insight and of course, withstanding high pressure and urgent deadlines. All of which are competencies essential to the corporate & commercial niche.

As ever understanding the sector of sport i.e., ‘the business’ is as crucial as with any commercial client.

Future & Evolution

Going forward, sports lawyers must be familiar with an ever-changing landscape with new and also evolved elements falling under the corporate & commercial umbrella such as NFTs, the proliferation of TV licensing and player empowerment adding new layers.

Esports has stalled somewhat from its original pace of growth but there is still demand for legal professionals who are knowledgeable in this area with emphasis on intellectual property, sponsorship and advertising, and player contracts.

With the growing popularity of sports betting and gaming, there is an increasing need for legal professionals who are knowledgeable in this area which includes issues related to regulatory compliance, anti-money laundering, and consumer protection.

The well-being of athletes has become an increasingly important issue in sports law. Legal professionals are needed to address issues such as athlete exploitation, harassment, and abuse, as well as to ensure that athletes receive adequate support for mental health issues.

Technology is playing an increasingly important role in sports too, which includes issues related to the use of technology in sports, such as video assistant referees and goal-line technology, as well as issues related to intellectual property and licensing.

The Bottom Line

A non-contentious sports lawyer needs to be a good Corporate & Commercial lawyer first, and interested in sports second.

Corporate and commercial law provides the legal framework necessary for the effective management and operation of sports organisations and events, ensures that all parties are protected in transactions and agreements, and provides expert legal representation in dispute resolution. As such, it is essential that sports lawyers have a strong understanding of Corporate and Commercial law to provide effective legal advice and representation in this area.

Lee Emptage

Partner BTMK Solicitors


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