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It is no secret that sports deals pay handsomely. Gareth Bale’s record-busting transfer, clocking in at £85.3m, proved that this summer and handed an appetising mandate to high-profile Berwin Leighton Paisner sports litigator Graham Shear. Earlier this month Jones Day and Cleary Gottlieb also scored in the £300m sale of 70 per cent of Inter Milan.
But the market for sports and media lawyers has traditionally been tight, with a few niche firms taking the best roles. Not so any more according to recruiters, who say the market is increasingly active and that both football clubs and governing bodies are on the hunt for new talent.
Alistair Campbell, in-house lawyer at Hudson, says: “The sports market has been active, with football clubs and governing bodies such as the FA and Uefa recruiting in the past few months.”
But Daniel Smith at Noble disagrees, saying enthusiasm at the start of the summer has been replaced by a relatively slow trickle of deals.
In the media world, the word on the grapevine is that litigation and regulation are increasingly busy areas for private practice lawyers.
Managing director of Michael Page Legal, David Forsdyke, says: “In private practice the market is busy at a junior level in media litigation and regulation,” while Campbell adds: “ Broadcast, which, like other forms of traditional media has been quiet, is now showing comparatively high recruitment activity.”
However it is still the case that the go-to firms in this area are in the mid- and niche markets. Firth recommends looking to Harbottle & Lewis, Lee & Thompson, Couchmans, Mishcon de Reya, Wiggin and Olswang for the plum roles.
It might also be worth adding Goodman Derrick and Lewis Silkin to the list of niche advisers according to Campbell, although he says that Harbottle, Olswang and Wiggin continue to be the “gold standard”.
Lawyers seeking roles on media deals and sports contracts could be better off looking in-house.
Firth says: “The in-house media industry has always been quite buoyant as it has a disproportionate number of lawyers per head compared with other industries.
“Production, content acquisition/distribution and digital media specialists are all particularly sought-after. Roles at sporting bodies however, are much rarer and extremely competitive.”
Ellie Price at Shilton Sharpe Quarry says: “As the money in sport has increased through big sponsorship deals, TV coverage and paying spectators, legal issues have become more prominent, meaning there’s more demand for lawyers to operate in this space.”
But she warns that the need to cut costs can mean leaner legal teams for smaller media and sports companies.
The best place to look for in-house sports roles at the moment is the FA, while Walt Disney and Universal are generating happy endings for a fair number of young hopefuls.