Baltimore Orioles’ third baseman Brooks Robinson was the beloved sports icon of Charm City during the 1970s – Most Valuable Player awards, World Series Titles, American League Pennants and numerous other accolades flooded the Orioles home at Memorial Stadium, and Robinson was the polestar. In 1976, when the star infielder needed assistance with an off-field business venture, Ronald M. Shapiro, a securities lawyer and a renowned negotiator with fraudulent securities deals, stepped up to represent Robinson. Following the deal, Shapiro’s athletic representation quickly increased as sports agents in Baltimore were few and far between. In fact, Shapiro noted at the time he might have been “the only one.”
That is not the case in today’s sports-dominated culture, and to reflect this movement the Maryland State Bar Association officially sanctioned the Entertainment and Sports Law Section during the Joint Bar/Bench Conference this past June, in Ocean City. Functioning as a Special Committee since 2003, the group was informed in the latter part of the summer of 2006 that they were eligible for Section status during the 2007 conference after having gained their required 100 members; all activities and plans prior to that confirmation were focused towards gaining Section status.
“I don’t see it as a stopping point,” says Cheryl L. Slay, a founding member of the Entertainment & Sports Law Special Committee and current Section Chair. “I see it as a beginning.”
Only a few months old, the Section has begun preparation on the cornerstones of its structure. Customary tasks like creating a Section Council and writing the bylaws are currently being worked on, while more ambitious goals, such as a Section Newsletter and educational programs, are beginning to develop. A Kickoff Celebration to introduce people to the Section is slated for the early fall; the event will couple as a social/networking activity with an educational atmosphere. One aspect that will be retained from the Special Committee to the Section is its bi-annual MICPEL Program on Entertainment and Sports Law.
“We are on par and really doing very well,” notes Slay. “We are talking about how we can expand as a Section. We are considering, greatly, how we can communicate with our members more effectively, and they with us.”
The Section is riding high on a wave of momentum, though, the practice for which they serve has stalled in Baltimore. The amount of attorneys specifically practicing Entertainment and Sports Law in Maryland are not even comparable to those of major media markets. Therefore, this Section relies on natural cross-over opportunities and ambiguous interest as its enticement for membership. Intellectual Property Law, Copyright Law and Right of Publicity are all fields that delve into the Entertainment and Sports Law realm.
Jeffery Zinn, an Intellectual Property attorney for Saul Ewing, LLP, enjoys working in the Entertainment and Sports Law arena because he is an avid sports fan and this adds a little excitement to his workday. Along those same lines, Damon Brown, a young attorney also with Saul Ewing, is currently exploring the options of creating an Entertainment and Sports department for the firm in its Baltimore office. An admitted “sports nut,” Brown wanted to parlay his affinity for sports into his livelihood. Both have attended Entertainment and Sports Law Special Committee/Section meetings and conferences to further their exposure.
Shapiro has taken the reigns as bellwether of Baltimore’s Entertainment and Sports Law community. Having represented close to 1,000 athletes (including five baseball hall-of-famers) and many media personalities (including, at one point, all of the local television broadcasters), Shapiro is often sought after for his sapient counsel.
“I have always encouraged other people to get involved [in Entertainment and Sports Law],” says Shapiro, though he urges young attorneys to develop their practice around something other than Entertainment and Sports law, and not to neglect the many facets of that field of law (i.e. representing teams, college athletic departments and broadcasters).
“Look at the diversity of it,” advises Shapiro.