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O’Melveny Breaks Through Virus Slowdown With Women’s Soccer Deal

July 22, 2020, 3:21 PM

The sports world might be largely shut down due to coronavirus, but O’Melveny & Myers has snapped up work despite a tough environment for sports deals on the creation of a women’s soccer team set to play in Los Angeles.

The team founded by a group of mostly female celebrities and athletes came together despite the fact that organized sports is facing the daunting task of protecting players and still retaining the interest of fans during the global pandemic when players, staff and spectators are at risk. The National Women’s Soccer League expansion team is dubbed “Angel City” after its hometown and is set to kick off in spring 2022.

Charles Baker, O’Melveny’s Sports Industry Group co-chair, along with counsel Eric Geffner, helped structure the deal for approval from the league for an expansion slot, which the NWSL announced Tuesday.

“Covid has been impactful but most owners see this as temporary, and believe in the underlying value of their assets,” said Baker, who is based in New York. “Revenue is still coming in because media deals are still being paid. Buyers are interested in teams or pieces of teams, but it’s a slow market because of future uncertainty.”

Soccer has been part of the uncertain climate with leagues taking extra precautions and mostly keeping fans out of the stadium. The 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup is currently underway in Utah, with players sequestered to protect them from Covid-19 infection, and games are being live streamed.

Although sports industry dealmaking has slowed down in recent months as sellers and buyers assess the impact of the pandemic on long-term prospects for the industry, Baker said the industry expects a return to live play once safety can be established.

Baker said Angel City “is unlikely to play for two years,” as negotiations are completed for the team’s venue and media deals, along with other aspects of fielding a professional sports team.

Baker has advised on some high-profile deals, including investor David Tepper’s record breaking $2.25 billion bid for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, as well as Tepper’s acquisition of a Major League Soccer expansion team to play in Charlotte, North Carolina. He’s helped investors gain a stake in or acquire numerous sports teams, from the MLS’ New York City Football Club and the Seattle Sounders to the NHL’s Washington Capitals and NFL’s Miami Dolphins.

Last month, O’Melveny’s sports group also advised the NBA’s Kevin Durant who purchased a 5% stake in the ownership group of MLS’ Philadelphia Union.

O’Melveny’s client relationships within the professional sports world date back decades.

The firm has handled a range of other team purchases and legal matters including licensing and media arrangements, financings, naming rights, sponsorships, and endorsements. Its sports industry practice began in the 1950s when its lawyers helped facilitate the relocation of the former Brooklyn-based Dodgers baseball franchise to Los Angeles, and later structured the deal that brought basketball superstar Wilt Chamberlin to the Los Angeles Lakers from the 76ers.

The mostly female group O’Melveny helped set up the new Los Angeles women’s team includes celebrities like tennis champion Serena Williams, actor Natalie Portman, and tech venture capitalist Kara Nortman.

More than a dozen former U.S. Women’s National Team soccer players, including Julie Foudy , Abby Wambach, and Mia Hamm, also participated. The national team sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for $66 million alleging they were paid less than male players, a claim rejected in federal court last spring.

To contact the reporter on the story: Elizabeth Olson in Washington at egolson1@gmail.com
To contact the editor on this story: Rebekah Mintzer in New York at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com
Chris Opfer in New York at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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