OneTeam Partners LLC and JMI Sports LLC, two outfits representing different sides of the U.S. sports space, have added a pair of senior in-house lawyers amid a changing dynamic for how athletes and institutions are compensated.
Derrick Davis Jr., who spent the past year as a monetization counsel at TikTok Inc., where he was one of many new lawyers recruited by the social media startup, started July 12 as vice president of legal and business affairs at New York-based OneTeam, he told Bloomberg Law in an email.
JMI, a San Diego-based media rights and venue development firm for collegiate sports programs, hired Stephanie Wilka in May as its vice president of legal affairs. Wilka was most recently associate general counsel and baseball operations compliance officer for Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres.
Wilka’s new role is listed on her LinkedIn profile and the website for JMI, a company co-founded in 2006 by technology investor John Moores, a former owner of the Padres. JMI has multimedia rights partnerships with several top university sports programs, such as Clemson, Harvard, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh.
OneTeam was formed in late 2019 as a joint venture between private equity firm RedBird Capital Partners LLC and the labor unions representing MLB players and their National Football League counterparts. The marketing and investment firm controls the licensing rights to players in both leagues, as well as the Major League Soccer Players Association, the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, the U.S. Rugby Players Association, and the U.S. women’s national soccer team.
OneTeam received more than $31.3 million last year from the MLB Players Association, as well as $41.3 million from the NFL Players Association. Davis reports to OneTeam managing director and chief legal officer Timothy Slavin, a former baseball union lawyer hired by the company in early 2020.
Davis, a former associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, went in-house at MLS in 2018 before jumping two years later to Relevant Sports Group, a soccer events company owned by the billionaire Stephen Ross. Davis joined TikTok last summer.
In a message posted to LinkedIn, Davis said he had the “adventure of a lifetime” at TikTok, which hired a new top U.S. lawyer in June. “I’m forever grateful to have worked alongside such nimble, innovative, and gritty colleagues during an unprecedented time in the world and the company,” he said.
Davis will now focus on representing the commercial business interests of athletes and players’ associations to “maximize the value of their name, image, and likeness,” he said. The National Collegiate Athletic Association recently adopted new NIL rules that will allow college athletes to be paid.
Wilka didn’t respond to a request for comment about whether JMI will do marketing or licensing work for college athletes. As for the Padres, who hired Wilka in 2016 after she spent five years in-house for the Houston Astros, they’ve replaced her with associate general counsel Tereza Zabka. She joined the team in May after spending six years working for Carlsbad, Calif.-based communications company Viasat Inc.
Lawyers in the Game
MLB, which recently completed its annual player draft, relocated its All-Star Game, and renamed the league’s franchise in Cleveland, has also been busy this summer hiring in-house lawyers. The Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates both named new legal chiefs in July, as did the New York Mets.
The Minnesota Twins announced via LinkedIn this week their hire of deputy general counsel Marisol Guttman, who spent the past three years as an associate counsel and special adviser for business operations for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. Guttman, a former lawyer at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Chicago, will now work with longtime Twins general counsel Mary Giesler.
MLB’s restructuring of Minor League Baseball, a move aided last year by the coronavirus pandemic putting the sport on hiatus, has also led some former MiLB lawyers to find new jobs. Robert Fountain, a former deputy general counsel for MiLB, was hired in June as a corporate counsel for MLB’s Texas Rangers. Fountain spent the past 10 months as an associate general counsel for the United Soccer League.
Shannon Finucane, promoted last year from associate counsel to deputy general counsel at MiLB after Fountain’s departure, left the organization in May to become director of legal business affairs for the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, a team that recently lost an assistant general counsel and hired a new top lawyer earlier this year.
As for MLB itself, the New York-based league has also been adding legal talent, picking up counsel Zachary Morgenstern and Benjamin Perry to work on MiLB matters. Perry was most recently a corporate associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell, while Morgenstern was an associate corporate counsel at CBS Interactive Inc.
Nicolette Miranda, associate counsel with the league’s Washington Nationals, joined the Secaucus, N.J.-based MLB Network in May as a business and legal affairs counsel.
MLB also hired Skadden associate Leonardo Villalobos as a sports betting and compliance counsel, a new position with the league, and counsel Sheila Meagher and Patrick Grady from Prince Lobel Tye and Axiom Global Inc., respectively.
The league’s lawyers are often called upon to handle everything from broadcast deals and due diligence on team sales to internal investigations. MLB has recently issued suspensions to two former Mets employees accused of inappropriate conduct with women. Deputy general counsel and vice president of investigations Moira Weinberg handled those matters along with counsel Sheila Martinez, said a source familiar with the situation. The source also confirmed the half-dozen MLB legal hires.
MLB is led by commissioner Robert Manfred Jr., a former partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, where he served as outside counsel to the league. MLB promoted longtime in-house lawyer Lara Pitaro Wisch, sister of ESPN chairman and fellow attorney James Pitaro, to be its general counsel in July 2019.