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Vivid Seats Taps TripAdvisor Lawyer for GC Job After SPAC Deal

Sept. 1, 2021, 3:18 PM

Vivid Seats Inc., a digital ticketing marketplace, said Tuesday it hired former TripAdvisor Inc. Vice President David Morris to be its general counsel while the company prepares to go public.

Vivid Seats agreed in April to merge with Horizon Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company backed by Todd Boehly, co-owner of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers and a co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Greenwich, Conn.-based investment firm Eldridge Industries LLC.

“As Vivid Seats enters this next chapter, it is important that our leadership team reflects our company’s mission to drive growth and provide an unparalleled customer experience,” Vivid Seats CEO Stanley Chia said in a statement touting the recruitment of Morris and several other new company executives.

The union between Horizon and Vivid Seats, which will have a combined market capitalization of nearly $2 billion, came together to capitalize on the resumption of live performances halted by the coronavirus pandemic. Vivid Seats markets tickets to sporting events, concerts, and theater productions.

Kirkland & Ellis is representing Horizon on its proposed tie-up with Vivid Seats, which is being advised by Latham & Watkins. The combination is expected to close during the second half of this year.

Among other hires Vivid Seats announced besides Morris are Chief Operating Officer Dan Timm and Chief Marketing Officer Tyra Neal. The team will “help drive the organization as we continue to lead within the industry,” Chia said.

New Legal Regime

Morris began his legal career more than two decades ago as an associate in Boston at what is now Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr and Hinckley, Allen & Snyder.

He then spent seven years working at Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., a biopharmaceutical company now called Takeda Oncology, and Invensys Ltd., an engineering and information technology outfit absorbed into Schneider Electric SE.

In 2008, Morris joined Needham, Mass.-based TripAdvisor and spent 13 years handling corporate and regulatory matters related to the online travel research and booking company’s international and domestic hotels, flights, and vacation rentals business. Morris was a senior corporate counsel and assistant general counsel at TripAdvisor before becoming a vice president and associate general counsel in 2016.

Morris also has been a longtime board member for the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism Inc., a Framingham, Mass.-based nonprofit named after the son of the former National Football League quarterback of the same name.

Morris is Vivid Seats’ first-ever general counsel, spokeswoman Julia Young said, even though the company has always had senior leadership for its legal department. He oversees a legal group that includes senior corporate counsel Alexa Nickow, hired in August from a similar role at Chicago-based property management company SMS Assist LLC, and vice president of legal and government affairs Ryan Fitts.

Fitts had previously led the company’s legal department and government affairs program, according to public records. The former Mayer Brown associate and longtime in-house lawyer at CareerBuilder Inc. initially joined Vivid Seats as an assistant general counsel in 2017.

Vivid Seats hired former Netflix Inc. global public policy leader Christopher Libertelli in 2018 as its senior vice president of legal and government affairs. He subsequently left the company to become global head of content policy at YouTube Inc.

A Pandemic Punch

At Vivid Seats, Morris joins a company that last year avoided multidistrict litigation in lawsuits filed by customers of competitor StubHub Inc. They sought refunds for events canceled due to Covid-19. StubHub, which has its own MDL, was accused of changing some of its policies from refunds to credits for canceled events.

Latham and Chicago’s Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg have handled most of the litigation in U.S. federal courts involving Vivid Seats over the past three years, according to Bloomberg Law data. Records on file with the U.S. Senate show that the Chicago-based company also employs two firms to lobby for it at the federal level.

Vivid Seats paid $80,000 through the first two quarters of this year to FGH Holdings LLC—formerly known as the Glover Park Group LLC—for it to advise on “anticompetitive practices in the secondary market for event tickets.” TeleMedia Policy Corp., another advocacy firm, was paid $75,000 during that time to lobby for Vivid Seats on legislative and regulatory matters in the online event ticket market.

Vivid Seats, founded in 2001 and owned by private equity firms GTCR LLC and Vista Equity Partners LLC, had prior to its Horizon deal looked to sell itself for a reported $1.5 billion in 2017. The company’s competitors include SeatGeek Inc. and StubHub, whose roughly $4 billion sale to London-based Viagogo Ltd. was finalized last year.

StubHub saw its former general counsel Stephanie Burns, whom it hired from Amazon.com Inc. in March 2019, leave the company a little over a year later to return to the Jeff Bezos-led e-commerce giant as an associate general counsel. StubHub replaced Burns last year with Marty Marie Linne, a longtime lawyer at Intel Corp.

Bloomberg News has reported that Vivid Seats seeks to differentiate itself from competitors like StubHub and SeatGeek with a rewards program that offers cash back to customers on some transactions.

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

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