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Joseph Band of US Marshals Service Explains the Importance of Legal Counsel for Sports Organizations

The general public tends to view the involvement of lawyers as an indication that embarrassing problems need to solved or shady activities concealed.  It is indeed the job of attorneys to resolve issues, but upholding the law stretches beyond the work police officers and criminal courts do. The legal system of a country is designed to ensure that society operates smoothly while the rights of both its citizens and businesses are protected. Lawyers do not feature in headlines unless they are part of a high-profile criminal or corporate case, but it is their work that allows the law to be observed in all social ad economic spheres. Considered mostly of entertainment value, the sports field is not readily associated with legal counselors, but this is a massive and steadily growing industry that aims to deliver a service profitably. When contemplated from this angle, sports organizations emerge as no different from traditional corporations, and their business needs require the presence of lawyers to handle various matters, explains Joseph Band of US Marshals Service (USMS), whose relationship with sports dates back to the 1970s.

Running a business involves dealing with labor, corporate, and tax issues, all of which are governed by complex laws that take years to master. While celebrity athletes command the public’s attention, sports organizations are typically vast collections of people, each tasked with specific duties. Regardless of whether they choose external legal advisers or establish an in-house unit, team owners and managers need highly trained people to handle employment contracts, along with ensuring that all internal policies and procedures are compliant with the law. Equally important for sports organizations are contracts involving their physical assets and intellectual property (IP), which means they need legal counsel for transactions such as venue financing, franchise acquisitions, sponsorship agreements, marketing projects, and endorsements. Moreover, IP is among the most valuable assets of any business organization, which often makes it the subject of litigation, Joseph Band of US Marshals Service notes, adding that protecting these properties makes it critical to have an attorney on board.

Since the people and the brand are essential for the success of a sports operation, mismanaging these assets can bring the enterprise down. The leadership team has a responsibility to ensure that no mistakes are made in this regard, which would be impossible without support from experienced, trusted legal advisers. Sports managers have to decide on multiple issues every day, addressing matters related to personnel, events, investment, financing, advertising, merchandise, and media rights. Even though veteran leaders know what is best for their organization, they need legal assistance to ensure their actions respect the law and abide by the provisions of corporate contracts. David Cohen, an attorney who worked for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, perhaps summed it best when he told Norman Wain in a 2015  interview for LawInSport, “A GC [general counsel] is one of the few executives that has deep involvement in every primary area of the sports business, from the venues and the media down to the sponsors and the merchandise. As such, a good GC can provide advice that fits within the big picture of an organization.”

Joseph Band of US Marshals Service has spent 47 years accumulating concentrated, multidisciplinary experience in the fields of sports, teaching, management, and law, mastering intricacies in areas such as legislation, security, procurement, budget, and personnel. The American University alumnus has been an adjunct professor at the Washington College of Law since 1970, combining his responsibilities as a legal lecturer with his work as a media statistician for the likes of Washington Red Skins, NBC Sports, Fox Sports, CBS Sports, and ESPN. He spent 18 years working as a senior attorney at the USMS Office of General Counsel and has been providing legal advice to the US Park Police Foundation and the US Amateur Softball Association since the 1990s.

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