Monday, 14 May 2012

Legal Issues in Emerging Sports

Over the weekend, I attended the Sports Law Association annual conference. I was privileged to be a panelist with Ryan Hilbert on legal issues in emerging sports. Over the last few years I have represented clients in snowboarding, rugby sevens and most recently Muay Thai. The legal issues raised by these sports, which we call emerging sports, do overlap somewhat with the established "stick and ball" sports can also be somewhat unique. Often these sports are underfunded, at least initially, and do not have an established corporate structure. These sports thus need legal guidance in corporate structure and governance issues at the entity level. Financial issues are also a huge issues for these sports. They need additional revenues to grow, obtain additional exposure and increase grass roots participation. Two of the key issues for emerging sports are thus television and sponsorship dollars. A number of emerging sports, such as rugby, are benefiting from tremendous growth in participation and are becoming more attractive to broadcasters. With the proliferation of cable channels looking for sports content, some emerging sports are well-positioned to increase their television exposure. A traditional sale of broadcast rights may be achieved by some emerging sports but others may enter into some type of joint venture with a broadcaster as an alternative. Sponsorship dollars often provide significant revenue to an emerging sport. It can be a cost-effective way for sponsors to connect with their target demographic. Drafting sponsorship agreements for emerging sports requires sensitivity in some cases to the desire for the sport to retain the "authenticity" of its culture. The sponsorship agreement may thus limit certain aspects of a typical sponsorship, so the sport does not seem too commercial. Social media is also a significant component of marketing campaigns for emerging sports, which may have a younger demographic that relies heavily on social media to communicate. It is important to make sure that there is compliance with FTC guidelines for social media and mobile marketing and other relevant statutes, such as the Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act. That act imposes obligations on marketers that target children under 13.Emerging sports can also raise risk management issues, especially for those emerging sports that are contested in non-traditional venues, such as on a mountain slope or offshore for a surfing contest. Fan safety, and the appropriate insurance, are paramount. The release language in admission tickets and disclosures to spectators about safety should be part of an emerging sports risk management program.As emerging sports continue to grow, these and other legal issues will continue to be significant for emerging sports.

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