Seton Hall University Law School Sports Law Symposium Highlights a Year of Unprecedented Investment in Sports

Dec 1, 2023

Special to Hackney Publications

Seton Hall University Law School held its fourth annual Sports Law Symposium on November 8, focusing on “Money in Sports,” and the climate of investment in sports betting, sports media, and teams and leagues, with a series of panels featuring 18 experts including investment bankers, veterans of professional leagues, and leading attorneys working in the sports space. 

The symposium, which was led by student co-chairs Amber Osterbrink and Emily Nesi, both third-year law students at Seton Hall, coincides with several exciting initiatives underway at Newark, New Jersey-based Seton Hall Law School in Sports Law and the adjacent spaces of Gaming, Hospitality, and Entertainment Law.  

The highlights of the panels included a lively exchange on the kickoff ethics panel, featuring five sports law professors from New York and New Jersey law schools on the issue of “sport washing” featuring eye-opening comments on the extent to which state actors have integrated and are integrating into global sport to help change attitudes about repressive regimes. The ethics panel also took on challenges associated with legalized sports betting and the mixed messages associated with advertising such businesses.

Each panel seemed to set up the upcoming one, as the second of the day’s groups looked at a stunning year of investment in sports betting, featuring equity fund leader Chad Stender of SeventySix Capital, casino and resort investment banker Matt Sodl of Innovation Capital, Seton Hall Law alum Megan Kelleher of Fanatics Licensing & Betting, attorney Adam Berger of the firm Duane Morris who has done legal work for all the other panelist’s firms, and was moderated by Deputy Attorney General Michael Golub of New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement. The conversation ultimately turned to Penn Entertainment’s deal with ESPN which is notable not only for its size but also marked the sports media giant’s most serious foray into sports betting.

The next panel cued by the Penn-ESPN deal took on the sports media climate, which was described as “interesting,” by Dan Bravato, President of SeventySix Capital’s Sports Advisors. Pivoting off Bravato’s comment, panelists including Seton Hall Law alum Tracy Deforge of The Players Impact, award winning sports journalist Jane McManus, Executive Director of Seton Hall’s Center for Sports Media, and entertainment lawyer and now producer Mike Sword of Broadcasting Diplomacy, detailed a time of disruption in sports media with both opportunities and challenges presented by changing audiences and consumer choices. Investment banker and moderator, Christopher Russo, of Fifth Generation Sports, kept the conversation lively as panelists agreed on significant gains having been made in women’s sports and in sports-specific programming content, “with everyone looking for the next Drive to Survive.” Bravato, who began with the forecast of “interesting,” on the overall climate, added that in this era of chord-cutting and diminishing audiences it may be more valuable to have “an engaged community rather a passive audience,” to effectively sum up the conversation.

Nearly 5 hours of thought-provoking discussion, with a steady audience of more than 50 students, attorneys, and with nearly all of panelists remaining throughout the day, came to a conclusion with a discussion of investment in leagues and teams. Tracy Deforge whose resume includes a leadership role at the NHL and Chris Russo who previously headed digital media at the NFL and was involved in the sale of the Women’s Professional Hockey League, stayed on to join a group that included Sidley attorney Dylan Sherwyn, Skadden lawyer Peter Schwartz, Gibson Dunn real estate practice head Andrew Lance, who has worked on multiple stadium deals, and former NFL Senior Vice President Frank Hawkins, to look at a year were new investments into sports leagues and teams seem to be moving ever higher. Moderated by Gibson Dunn associate Anthony Lombardo, who has expertise in resorts and stadia, this panel looked back on a year that saw the record price of U.S. sports franchises go from $4.65 billion when the Denver Broncos were sold in August of 2022 to $6 billion in July of 2023 and explored some of the reasons why the pro sports investment climate still appears to be so bullish.

This fall at Seton Hall Law, in addition to the symposium, also saw launch of a first of its kind J.D.-degree concentration in Gaming, Hospitality, Entertainment & Sports Law (aka GHamES), that connects these developing fields to the law school’s locational advantage of being in the NJ/NY metropolitan area. Dean Devon Corneal, who offered the day’s welcome, and Professor Robert Boland, who is a veteran sports lawyer and teacher, provided faculty oversight to the symposium and to the GHamES concentration, teaching and advising students in it.

In addition to the curricular innovations directly at the law school, it was also part of group awarded provost’s Academy grant to begin an Interdisciplinary Academy for the Study of Sports, connecting the existing strength of the University’s Stillman School of Business where former National Basketball Players Association Executive Director leads the Center for Sports Management, and the College of Human Development, Culture and Media’s Center for Sports Media, led by noted journalist Jane McManus, who also served as a panelist at the symposium. 

Professor Boland, concluded the day thanking the panelists, student co-chairs, the many student volunteers, and the alumni who participated, attended or provided well-wishes to the event, noting that Seton Hall Law School was one of the first law schools to have a sports law program that included a journal and a symposium, and that the energy around Sports, Gaming, Hospitality, and Entertainment Law at the school draws on this great history of leadership and the success of its alumni and that it is his desire to give that tradition a full renaissance, now. 

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