Breaking Up Boutiques: Linklaters Announces the Creation of its New Sports Group

May 29, 2019

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Linklaters Sports Law Icon

3 min read

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What's going on here?

Linklaters recently announced the establishment of a new cross-practice sport sector group to tailor its services better for clients in the sports industry.

What does this mean?

In Linklaters’ own words, sport is “at the forefront of digital and technological development and consumer engagement”. Linklaters has seized the opportunity to reinforce its offering in this regard and will now operate a team that focuses specifically on the sports sector.

2018 saw big commercial battles between Sky and BT who spent a total of £4.5 billion on Premier League TV rights. Combined with the continuing possibility of Facebook, YouTube and other media streaming companies entering the sporting fray, there is demand for Linklaters’ expertise in the world of sports-related commercial activity such as transactions, financings, and securitisation. Premiums on sports data (in-depth statistics used, for example, by professional coaches or betting companies) and the development of areas such as eSports (where video gamers compete against each other) mean that there will be a great deal of novel legal issues on which Linklaters would be well-placed to advise. The establishment of a new sports group reflects Linklaters’ desire to attract new clients in this fast-paced industry.

Moreover, it is clear that Linklaters has the team to match the Magic Circle firm’s aspiration, with managing associate Tom Lambert noting the firm’s “good credentials in this sector”. Lambert, himself a rising star in this sector, will work alongside the experienced triumvirate of Ian Wagstaff (Corporate Partner, who worked on the sale of Everton FC), Tom Cassels (Dispute Resolution Partner) and Julian Davies (Finance Partner).

Why should law firms care?

Linklaters entering the competition is a new threat for the pioneering boutiques that dominate this legal sector at the moment. Boutiques like Centrefield, Northridge Law and Hamlins currently work with organisations like AC Milan and Puma and stars like Neymar and Dele Alli. From their years of experience, they are highly regarded in their specific practice sectors. Figuring out how to attract the brightest young legal talent in the sports sector has only become more challenging with Linklaters’ launch of a separate sports sector group.

Whilst attracting talent may be increasingly difficult for the boutiques, big is not always best. Boutique law firms have thrived on being more efficient, cheaper and offering better service than some of the established names in the legal industry. They are especially prominent in industries that are changing rapidly like in media, technology and sports sectors. They are even helping to make the rules, with Northridge Law advising on rewriting the regulation on UK horse racing. They also boast a balance between cutting-edge work and a more caring working environment to attract young trainees.

Both Linklaters and the boutiques have big clients and cases. Dozens of top flight European football clubs have all been clients of Linklaters and the firm is no stranger to the M&A deals in this sector, having advised the likes of beIN media. But will the Magic Circle firm be able to compete with the competitive services offered by the boutiques?

Equally, there is one giant standing in the way of Linklaters’ ambition to be the big sports firm: Slaughter & May. Slaughter & May has excellent long-standing relationships in the sporting sector. It is Arsenal’s preferred legal advisor and has negotiated for several Championship sides to secure a better deal from Sky. Its client base even includes the government, with Lord Moynihan seeking Slaughter & May’s advice on his private members bill related to sports governance in 2014. Yet, both Magic Circle firms face the same challenge: can they rival the price, service and expertise of the boutiques in such a quickly-evolving sector?

Report written by Will H

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