Dan Werly

(@WerlySportsLaw)

Throughout the last four Sports Law Brief posts, there has been a common thread, among others: contributions to the digital media industry. This post, featuring Mr. Werly, follows suit. He currently oversees The White Bronco and previously ran SportsLaw 101. Also, he serves as a sports law expert for Bleacher Report. Additionally, Dan interned with the Drug Enforcement Administration and, after graduation, he was hired by Drinker Biddle & Reath to work in the firm’s Chicago office. Finally, in 2015, Dan was voted as an “Emerging Lawyer” in Sports Law and Commercial Litigation.

Sports Law Journey & Academic Emphases

“As a background, I come from a family comprised completely teachers. My parents and my sister all work in schools, so it was an unusual path for me to be going to law school. I didn’t really have the ‘bug’ in my head until very late in the process. I went to University of Miami (OH) for undergrad and was there for the sports management program. I always knew I wanted to work on the sports end of things.”

“We were forced to take a Thematic Sequence … and for whatever reason I decided to do one that had a business and legal theme to it. Once I enrolled in those classes, I really enjoyed the thought process that went into some of the legal issues and, from there, I started thinking (more about going to law school). I had a few friends that were a year or two older and had gone through the process, so I talked with them a lot about it. I didn’t know what else I was going to do and decided law school would be a good option.”

“I’ve always sort of been a sports nerd, so I tried my best to weave that in as much as possible. … My sports law professor at Georgetown Law was Andrew Brandt, who is an ESPN employee now. He had just left the Green Bay Packers before he began as an adjunct professor. He was a fantastic storyteller, so it made for an interesting class. Unlike Marquette, Georgetown didn’t have a huge course load offering (in sports law), but I was able to weave it in with other classes. For example, I had to take thing writing capstone class, which was taught by now-sports lawyer Paul Clement, and I ended up writing my paper on MLB’s salary arbitration process and the pros and cons of that. I also participated in our Sports and Entertainment Law Society, so I was trying to do as much as I could and was also doing some internships in the field.”

Sports Law Experience at Foley & Lardner

“I knew I wanted to do more work in the sports field and knew that Foley & Lardner had a really strong group. I lucked into an opening in their Chicago office that would allow me to do a lot more on the sports side. At my previous law firm — Drinker Biddle Reath LLP — I had done some work with a few random litigation cases that dealt with athletes, doing work with a former NBA player, a NASCAR driver.”

“At Foley, it’s definitely a more strategic approach. Foley’s group, which is a nationwide group that serves the sports industry in all aspects as far as transactional litigation and intellectual property, focuses entirely on team and league side cases. We usually weren’t representing athletes … because it would create a conflicts issue. If we took on a case for a certain player, there may be a point down the line where that would conflict us from representing the team in another case or transaction.”

“Personally, I was able to work on a bunch of different litigation cases that were either a (professional) league or team. I worked with a lot of the Chicago-based teams, as well as some other teams in the Midwest. In a lot of stuff that I worked on, it wasn’t necessarily hitting the news, but things that were important to their business — real estate and contract disputes, various topics like that … It shows that teams and league are really just businesses that work in the sports industry. A lot of the stuff you work on would be the same if you were working for a health care client or another real estate client. The same sort of issues come up, [but] it just happens to be in the sports law industry.”

“I also was fortunate enough to gain some experience in negotiating some contracts for teams and working on the transactional side, as well as doing some intellectual property-type work. I was able to get a wide base (of experience), and I’m really thankful for that opportunity. The leaders of the group really took me under their wing and gave me a lot of great experience.”

Sports Law Media

“I think it’s been a fascinating change since 2011 and even before that. When I launched the now-defunct SportsLaw 101 in 2011, I think it may have been, and I might be wrong on this, one of the first (sports law blogs) that was covering that field. … Now, there’s a bunch, which is great.”

“ESPN may have changed the format of its website, but they used to have this box (on the side of its website) that had a list of top stories. I remember looking at them earlier this year over a few days or weeks period, and there would consistently be at least two or three stories that had legal aspects to them. It just shows you that even in the general mainstream sports news feed, all of these stories that were out there had some legal aspect involved.”

“Running The White Bronco now … I’ve noticed the appetite not only for lawyers and those in the sports law industry but also the every-day fan who wants to know what’s going on, an explanation of what this means and how it impacts their team, the league, or whatever it may be. In short, the appetite for sports law information has increased, even in the last year increasing more so. Moving forward, I see this trending continuing.”

Internship with NBA Agent, Increased NBA Agent Fees 

“While I was in law school, I worked for Doug Neustadt … He had just left a big (sports agency) and was a younger guy, starting on his own. I only saw him a couple of times while I worked there because he was flying all over the place. He had a very unique business in the agent industry — he represented a lot of European players that came to the United States and a lot of U.S-born players that played in Europe. It’s certainly a hectic and exciting lifestyle.”

“(Regarding Increased Agent Fees …) It’s one of those things that we are going to have to see how it plays out. … It’s almost how the U.S. tax system is set up: where people that have one client, making minimum NBA salary and (the agent) is getting three percent of that, they’re not making a whole lot of money off this. So, that could be prohibitive to them being an agent. In practice, I don’t think that’s the case because many of them have legal careers or other sources of income.”

“At the same time, I think this new policy has opened the door for more people to be involved and whether that is a good thing, I don’t know. The agent industry is one that is dominated by the big sharks … There are a lot of agents who get a bad rap in the industry, but there are also tons out there who are extremely trustworthy and reputable. I think any way that we can promote that latter stick around seems to me as the best policy. In summary, I’d say it’s a wait-and-see process.”

O’Bannon & Full Cost of Attendance

“In a short answer, is the payment adequate enough? No. Is it a step in the right direction? Yes. A lot of the numbers are deceiving, but it’s a very profitable industry at least for TV Networks and the big-school coaches for a big basketball or football program. Thus, the challenge lies in everything else. These athletic programs have to support other sports. There are schools that are smaller and less renowned, who don’t have these huge Nike deals or TV deals to hold up financially. To move over to a minor league system, it’s just not practical. However, the (big-time) programs are making money hand over fist [and] the coaches are getting paid tons of money.”

“A few weeks ago, I read that Alabama’s strength and conditioning coach is making $600,000. Good for him, and I don’t blame coaches individually, but that just seemed a little out of skew (as compared a high-ranked public official in the state). This isn’t the last change to the system, whether that means some sort of segregating out these top programs and for those programs to feel like a minor league system, or whether it means full out reform for the NCAA system in general, whether it’s Congress stepping in, whether it’s unionization … I definitely think there are other things that are going to happen in the next five to ten years. While (the recent lawsuit and holding in the Ninth Circuit) is a step in the right direction, it’s not the final answer.”

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We cannot thank Dan enough for taking the time to discuss how he navigated his way through the industry, as well as his opinions and analysis on a wide range of sports law issues. In closing, we wish Dan the best of luck with his future endeavors.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the express written consent of the MULS Sports Law Society Blog (the “SLS Blog”). The opinions expressed by guests of the SLS Blog are their own, not ones expressed by the SLS Blog. 

 

 

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