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Sports Law Symposium Features OneTeam Partners' Top Attorney

11/23/2022
The 2nd Annual Sports Law Symposium gave Brooklyn Law School students a look at what it’s like to work in sports law, culminating with insights from the lead attorney at fast-growing OneTeam Partners, who described growing opportunities in trademarks and licensing.   

Professor Jodi Balsam, who teaches Sports Law and is the director of externships, conducted the Nov. 11 event’s keynote conversation with Tim Slavin, the chief legal officer of OneTeam Partners. Cofounded by the MLB and NFL Players Associations, the three-year-old company commercializes group licensing rights of professional and collegiate athletes and has seen rapid growth. It was reportedly valued at $1.9 billion in September 2022 after its founding investor, RedBird Capital Partners, sold its 40 percent share to HPS Investment Partners, Atlantic Park Strategic Capital Fund, and Morgan Stanley Tactical Value.  

The growth, including for its legal team, will continue, Slavin said, adding that the company is seeking an additional “five-star candidate” to join the legal team. The legal team at OneTeam focuses on licensing work, as well as media, content production, corporate M&A, and strategic advising. As general counsel, Slavin said he works to protect the company from litigation, ensure compliance, provide strategic advisory services, and keep up with business trends while not going too far ahead on those trends.  

After the exit of RedBird Capital, the company is targeting further growth, he said.  

“For 2.0, the management at the company is expected to deliver acquisitions, expansion,” Slavin said, adding that the company sees opportunities in working with the NBA and NHL Player Associations, two sports that aren’t currently under its umbrella, as well as expansion in the media space including content capture and production work (not broadcasting), and using the marketing power of its athletes across sports.  

“A lot of people wear and use products because athletes use and wear products,” he said, agreeing with Balsam that Tom Brady and the TB12 Method, which Brady cofounded, is a prime example.  “Brands are built on the backs of the athletes…the prominent public persona who wear and use them, and it makes a lot of sense for us to consider an opportunity in that space.” 

Slavin also shared insights on how the company works with college athletes. In recruiting them, OneTeam Partners does not work with the colleges or universities themselves, but instead partners with companies such as Opendorse and the National College Players Association, which aim to educate college athletes about licensing opportunities. OneTeam uses knowledge from its work with professional athletes to inform its work with student athletes.  

“Word of mouth matters, reputation matters, transparency and honesty matters, and we try to use all of that when we communicate to the college athletes what we do,” Slavin said. “I was a failed college athlete myself, but if someone came to me when I was 18 years old and told me I was going to sign a piece of paper and give them rights to put me in a videogame or a trading card, I don’t know if I would know what to do with that. …I would have some apprehension and I would want to know what are the bona fides of the people who are asking to do this.” 

Balsam asked Slavin about OneTeam’s role in the trademark space as a growing number of athletes are trying to protect their names, their personal catchphrases, and even their signature poses through trademarks. OneTeam Partners can only capitalize in the context of group licensing in ways such as featuring one player on the cover of packaging or a videogame, he said.  

“That’s [an example of] separating the player from the group,” he said. “A lot of the bigger-name athletes are seeing the opportunity in their own brands. We don’t leverage the IP that they own. We try to exploit it with and for them when they’re a part of the group.” 

Another opportunity OneTeam sees is in providing former players with opportunities after retirement by aligning them with current players in branding opportunities. The Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association is doing that for baseball players, but he sees opportunities in other sports.  

“Opportunities dwindle significantly once playing careers are over for so many of the athletes,” Slavin said.  

Organized by students, the event was presented by the Brooklyn Entertainment and Sports Law Society and the Intellectual Property Law Association (IPLA).