Freshfields' sporting bet
17 September 2012 | By Joshua Freedman
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Even for a global law firm, there is something imposing about London 2012’s extensive list of sponsors. First there is the razzmatazz-heavy group of eleven ‘worldwide Olympic partners’ - the elite roster of sponsors - including Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. Then there are the ‘Olympic partners’ such as Adidas, British Airways and BP. Below that are seven ‘Olympic supporters’.
And then, somewhere down the bottom of the poster with no logos in sight, are 28 ‘providers and suppliers’, including, if you stand staring at the list long enough, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.
It seems like a huge amount of work and investment for a global firm to put into one of the world’s biggest and most complex projects, only to get a mention among the bottom table of sponsors alongside the likes of Rapiscan Systems, Gymnova and Technogym.
Press reports suggests these so-called ‘domestic tier-three suppliers and providers’, including Freshfields, contributed £10m each to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog), although Freshfields Olympic relationship partner Tim Jones declined to comment on this. It is understood that most of the £10m consists of the value in kind of legal work - in other words, the equivalent cost of the hours the firm put into advising Locog.
But however it is comprised, the reported £10m is a hefty sum to put into a project that has no concrete immediate payback for the firm. It gave Freshfields - especially Jones, who had an accredited ticket allowing him access to every event - the opportunity to spend vast amounts of time with clients and potential clients, both during the Olympics and Paralympics and in the months leading up to it. But then so do a lot of corporate events.
“Really we were very keen to ensure clients saw the role we played - not just [seeing it as] a corporate hospitality event,” says Jones, who has led Freshfields’ Olympic team since 2003. For Jones, the business side of the project was about showing to clients that the firm had been at the heart of the Olympic process for years, not just the few summer weeks.
“We involved clients for quite a long period. We’d engaged them for a long time,” he points out. “It’s been very useful. It’s the sort of thing for getting you a lot of time with people, having a lot of conversations.”
Indeed, when it comes to conversations with other Olympic sponsors including BP, BT and Deloitte, they might be highly valuable.
Freshfields has been in a tussle with Linklaters for BP’s instructions since the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010, when now-London chief Mark Rawlinson won a mandate to advise on the fallout. Deloitte is an established client of disputes head Christopher Pugh, with the firm advising it on the Competition Commission’s recent investigation into the alleged market dominance of the Big Four accountancy firms. And BT has also favoured Freshfields over Linklaters in recent years, reappointing the former to its commercial panel earlier this year.
The Games, and Freshfields’ months and years of client events, has given it the best chance of capturing the opportunities that came from its role as a provider, but Jones is concerned that the buzz might not last.
“I hope it leaves us with a positive legacy in terms of people being aware that the London and UK business community did its bit and we were part of it,” he comments.
But there is a sense in Jones’ voice that making the most of the Games is not a done deal yet.
“It created a lot of energy in the building among our people, and I hope we can continue it. We will think long and hard about how we can capture and continue that. That’s what we’re talking about now. I think it’s a bit of a blank sheet of paper. To be honest, it’s not for my generation to lead.”
The current cohort - including Rawlinson and London people partner Nigel Rawding - have informally been given the task of making certain that the firm has not wasted the years.
Freshfields will continue its key pro bono projects related to the Games, including for Fields in Trust, which protects outdoor recreational space, and Arc, a programme promoting social enterprise for which the firm has offered to advise individual startups. It is also working on advising on attempts to fill the funding gap that may arise in some sports as a corollary of there having been a mass input of investment in the run-up to London.
The first project is especially timely, with news emerging last month that 31 playing fields had been sold off since the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came to power in 2010.
Jones muses: “It’s all very well ‘inspiring a generation’ to take up sport, but if there’s nowhere for them to play…
“Team GB came third in the Olympics [medal table] because it spent the third most money on the athletes. Whatever the Government says, there is obviously a concern that funding will be cut and won’t be as forthcoming as for the home Games.”
Jones says he will leave the job of shoring up the internal legacy to the younger generation and return to client work. He has all but ruled out the chance of Freshfields taking the same role at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where the firm does not have an office and no plans to open one. The firm has been talking to Rio organisers to offer some advice, but the likelihood is that the country’s government legal service will manage matters, possibly with a Brazilian firm as the official provider.
Meanwhile, a number of secondees to Locog are expected to get jobs advising on Rio, and the firm is working with the small number of staff brought in on fixed contracts to help them find a job elsewhere in sports organising.
Jones is insistent that Freshfields made the right decision taking on the Olympic mandate - it came at a time when the firm was keen on doing work like this - but it may be the last massive project of its kind that it does.
“Would we do it again?” Jones ponders. “I wouldn’t automatically do it just because it’s fun, but I would recommend to firms to look at other prospective projects. The great thing with the Olympics and Paralympics is that it seemed to fit with things we wanted to do in the first place.”
Regrets? Just one.
“I think I would have perhaps liked to have worked harder on making all our offices around the world feel involved. I think maybe we could have spread the message here - we did eventually, but we could have done it earlier,” Jones concludes.