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Cedar Fair Amusement Park Operator Hires WWE’s Former Top Lawyer

Nov. 15, 2021, 7:41 PM

Cedar Fair LP, an amusement park operator expanding into the esports space, said Monday it has hired Brian Nurse as chief legal officer.

He joins the company a year after he and two other top executives were reportedly let go by Stamford, Conn.-based World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., which hired Nurse as general counsel in 2018.

Nurse fills a role vacated five months ago by Cedar Fair’s longtime legal chief, Duffield “Duff” Milkie, who served as general counsel since 2008 and took on the corporate secretary title in 2012.

Cedar Fair, like WWE, the professional wrestling circuit owned by Vince McMahon, was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, which shuttered both amusement parks and the arenas where customers and fans flocked prior to Covid-19.

Nurse, who Cedar Fair has also tapped to fill its corporate secretary role, worked for Nestlé Waters North America Inc. and PepsiCo Inc. prior to his time at WWE. He started his legal career as an associate at Blank Rome and Cullen and Dykman.

“His insights, counsel and perspective—as well as his experience in advising boards of directors, senior leaders and other key stakeholders—will be highly valued,” said a statement from Cedar Fair CEO Richard Zimmerman.

The company disclosed in a June 9 securities filing that Milkie would depart but would remain a non-employee adviser through Feb. 24, 2022.

Milkie’s total compensation at Cedar Fair dropped by more than 58% between 2019 and 2020, according to the most recent proxy statement filed by the company. Senior executives took pandemic-related pay cuts. Milkie currently owns more than $4.2 million in Cedar Fair stock, according to Bloomberg data.

In July, a month after Milkie stepped down as Cedar Fair’s top lawyer, the company said it had plans to build a 1,500-seat esports arena in Sandusky, Ohio, home of its headquarters and near the location of its flagship amusement park in Cedar Point.

In October, Sandusky secured a pledge from Cedar Fair to invest $100 million in the municipality over the next 20 years.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported in June that the exit of Milkie, a Sandusky resident, had created concern among local officials that Cedar Fair was moving key operations to Charlotte, N.C., where Zimmerman works. Cedar Fair’s statement Monday said Nurse will be based in Charlotte and report directly to Zimmerman.

Cedar Fair spokesman Gary Rhodes said the company’s headquarters hasn’t moved. He also confirmed its longtime outside governance counsel remains Squire Patton Boggs, whose predecessor Squire, Sanders & Dempsey was founded in Cleveland.

Nurse, who owns nearly $121,000 in WWE stock, was not one of the company’s seven highest-paid executives during 2020, according to a proxy statement.

A quarterly financial statement filed by WWE on Oct. 29, 2020, said that the company had incurred $5.5 million in severance expenses “associated with a reduction of our workforce” due to Covid-19, “coupled with $3.5 million of higher legal expenses resulting from ongoing litigation.”

Pro wrestling trade publications noted that Nurse’s exit from WWE the following month came as the company reached a $39 million class action settlement related to its business endeavors in Saudi Arabia.

McMahon, the WWE’s co-founder, chairman and CEO, and other company executives and board members, were accused of insider dealing in the derivative litigation over the collapse of a broadcast deal with a Saudi state-owned network. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, K&L Gates and Day Pitney are representing WWE in the dispute, which saw the company reach another tentative settlement in August.

WWE announced in January its hire of Davis Wright Tremaine partner M. Darren Traub as its senior vice president of business and legal affairs for entertainment and talent management. In June, WWE hired Samira Shah, a former legal chief for online luxury fashion retailer Moda Operandi Inc., to succeed Nurse as its general counsel.

Nurse wasn’t the only lawyer employed by McMahon to lose his job last year.

Bloomberg Law reported earlier this year on the lawyers behind the XFL, a startup football league that McMahon put into bankruptcy due to Covid-19, searching for new positions. An investor group led by the actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson paid $15 million to buy the XFL out of bankruptcy and bring it back in 2023.

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