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Rebooted XFL Taps NBC Sports Lawyer as Legal, Business Chief (1)

Dec. 1, 2022, 10:40 PMUpdated: Dec. 1, 2022, 11:24 PM

The XFL, whose third attempt at a non-NFL football league debuts in February, hired veteran sports lawyer Wendy Bass as chief business and legal officer.

Bass spent the past two years as senior vice president of programming and rights management for NBC Sports Group. She oversaw acquisitions and programming and managed digital media strategy and partnerships.

At the XFL, Bass will lead the legal, people operations, and technology departments. The league announced her hire in a Nov. 29 statement. Bass said via email the new league is working with Latham & Watkins for media deals, Quarles & Brady on trademark issues, and Rochester, NY-based Woods Oviatt Gilman on other matters.

The XFL was sold for $15 million out of bankruptcy in 2020 to an ownership group led by actor and entrepreneur Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. partner Gerald Cardinale’s RedBird Capital Partners LLC.

Previously controlled by professional wrestling mogul Vince McMahon, the XFL filed for Chapter 11 protection in April 2020 after the coronavirus pandemic forced the upstart league to cancel its season after only five games.

The relaunched XFL completed a preliminary player draft last month for its eight teams located in Washington, St. Louis, Seattle, San Antonio, Orlando, Las Vegas, Houston, and Arlington, Texas, near Dallas. The league is based in Arlington.

Earlier this year the XFL finalized a partnership with the NFL on data sharing and football research. The league, one of several notable sports investments by RedBird’s Cardinale, has a broadcast rights agreement with Walt Disney Co.-owned ESPN.

Bass said she was drawn to the XFL by Kevin LaForce, a former NFL executive who joined RedBird last year as a managing director and head of the private equity firm’s sports and media business. LaForce, who worked with Bass when he was at the NFL and she at broadcast partner NBC, reached out about the opportunity, Bass said.

The XFL said Bass reports to its President Russ Brandon, the brother of Gregg Brandon, who until recently was general counsel for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Russ Brandon was also once president and CEO of the Bills, whose former general manager Doug Whaley is the XFL’s top player personnel executive.

Legal Lineup

Bass joined NBC in 2005 after serving as an associate at Cahill Gordon & Reindel in New York. She continued to work with the law firm in subsequent years negotiating media rights deals for major sporting events, including the Olympics, PGA Tour, Wimbledon, and the Kentucky Derby. Gary Zenkel, an NBC Sports executive and president of the network’s Olympics business, is a former Cahill Gordon associate.

McMahon’s original vision of the XFL was created in partnership with NBC Sports, the Stamford, Conn.-based sports programming division of NBCUniversal Media LLC, a media and entertainment conglomerate owned by cable giant Comcast Corp.

A handful of lawyers had key roles in McMahon’s XFL, which enjoyed success on television and stadium attendance prior to the pandemic halting play. McMahon’s initial XFL debut in 2001 lasted a few months before he and NBC pulled the plug.

Several former XFL lawyers have moved on to new positions. Mali Friedman, who the McMahon-led league hired to succeed its prior general counsel, Roxanne Kosarzycki, was named the top lawyer for the NFL’s Washington Commanders this past January.

John Wilson, a K&L Gates sports law and technology transactions partner who stepped in as interim general counsel for the XFL when Friedman went on maternity leave ahead of the league’s pandemic-driven insolvency, said he’s no longer advising the alternative football outfit. He wished the league the best in its next iteration.

Alec Scheiner, a former general counsel of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, now serves as a sports and media investment partner at RedBird. Last year RedBird hired Michael Chiaravalloti, a former managing director for JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s private bank, to be its chief compliance officer and in-house counsel.

RedBird was advised on its XFL purchase by Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. Sidley Austin represented Johnson’s camp on the deal, which closed in late 2020.

This past June, McMahon settled a long-running wrongful termination dispute with the XFL’s former commissioner, ex-quarterback-turned-sports executive Oliver Luck, shortly after McMahon stepped down as CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.

Luck, a former associate at what is now Norton Rose Fulbright, had sought nearly $24 million in pay under a contract that McMahon wanted to nullify by firing him for cause after the XFL suspended play two years ago.

(Adds comment from Bass in third and eighth paragraphs of story.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com