Harbottles misses out on Becks transfer action

A squad of lawyers from both sides of the Atlantic had been negotiating David Beckham’s transfer to Major League Soccer team LA Galaxy since mid December, The Lawyer can reveal.

Lawyers representing Beckham’s personal and commercial interests in the US and UK had been holding secret negotiations via phone and email with lawyers representing Major League Soccer and its LA Galaxy team.

Beckham yesterday signed a deal that under Major League Soccer’s unique structure for a sporting body effectively makes him an employee of the league, assigned to the LA Galaxy team. The league owns the LA Galaxy team as a legal entity, but it is operated by entertainment and leisure giant AEG, owners of London’s Millennium Dome.

Beckham took personal advice from his private lawyer Andrew Thompson, name partner at West End media boutique Lee & Thompson.

Andy Stinson, in-house counsel to Beckham’s managing agent and adviser 19 Entertainment, handled the bulk of the transfer negotiations. 19 Entertainment is run by music industry agent Simon Fuller, founder of the Spice Girls, where Beckham’s wife Victoria first shot to fame.

Stinson is a former Harbottle and Lewis partner, who has previously instructed the firm on behalf of 19 Entertainment matters, but chose to handle these negotiations in-house. Harbottles had previously represented the Beckhams personally in negotiations with BSkyB following the broadcast of the infamous Rebecca Loos interview in April 2004.

New York-based tax and structured finance boutique McKee Nelson represented Beckham Brand Limited, the player’s management company, in negotiations on endorsement, merchandise and image rights issues. The firm has been a long-term adviser to the company in the US. Partners Todd Finger and Peter Rooney acted for the company.

Proskauer Rose’s sports practice represented Major League Soccer, which has been a client of the firm since the league’s formation in 1996. The firm’s New York-based litigation and arbitration partners Bradley Ruskin and Robert Batterman, employment partner Howard Robbins and corporate partner Joseph Leccese and sports senior associate Jonathan Oram acted for the league.

Leccese said: “The relative secrecy that had been maintained by all parties involved in these negotiations had been commendable. There were rumours, but we had been involved in negotiations on a deal that had a number of complications for a number of weeks before rumours broke.”

Major League Soccer’s in-house negotiations were led by senior vice president of player relations and general counsel Bill Ordower. The league’s president, Mark Abbot, was an associate at Latham & Watkins before he moved in-house, and was central to the formation of the league’s structure.

AEG, which is understood to have struck a separate deal with Beckham to pay him up to $10m (£5.1m) annually in a profit-sharing arrangement was advised by general counsel Ted Fikre.

The deal will see Beckham paid $10m (£5.1m) annually in salary. The negotiations have also granted Beckham greater control over his image rights, merchandising and endorsement revenues. Together with the profit-sharing deal, Beckham could earn a total potential $50m (£25.5m) annually.