Dealmaking in the Sports World, with Irwin Kishner of Herrick

June 4, 2024 – Media Mention
Lawdragon Lawyer Limelight

Partner and co-chair of Herrick's Sports Law GroupIrwin Kishner, was recently interviewed for Lawdragon's Lawyer Limelight series on a range of topics including his longstanding career at Herrick, his work on complex and innovative transactions in sports law and his philosophy of approaching deals as if he has a personal stake in the outcome. Read his full interview below. 

Irwin Kishner believes in the power of creative collaboration. Fewer things have more potential impact than a strong group of aligned individuals putting their talents together to achieve a quantifiable, common goal. If law can be likened to a team sport, Kishner has been a star on the field for team Herrick for over 30 years.

Kishner is a partner in the Corporate Department as well as co-chair of Herrick’s renowned Sports Law Group. His scope touches many areas of sports law and beyond, but his focus is primarily on complex and sophisticated transactional work. He’s managed his fair share of mergers and acquisitions – joint ventures, proxy contests, self-tender, third party, financing and capital raising transactions, equity and debt restructuring, private equity and more. The many moving parts have never distracted Kishner from keeping his eye on the ball.

Kishner is comfortable in the spotlight and no stranger to high-profile work – which is hugely advantageous in the sports and corporate sectors. Kishner was an integral part of the formation of two of the nation's largest regional sports networks, has handled negotiations for NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS teams and is the primary contact for numerous sports dynasties. This past year he advised on an array of matters spanning the world of sports including sales of non-majority interests in professional sports teams, sponsorships and partnership agreements, advance deposit wagering, financing and ownership issues.

His recent representations include counseling a professional golf tour on issues ranging from general corporate matters, ticketing issues, broadcast and media rights and facial recognition. He represented the co-owner of an NBA team in the sale of his stake of the team in a transaction that struck at the third highest valuation of any American sports team. He also represented a global premium experiences company in its investment in a startup indoor cycling league. He has led transactions involving landmark wagering and media rights agreements, concessions services agreements with major U.S. universities as well as the sellers and purchasers of minority indirect equity interests in professional sports teams. Big names, bigger reputations and huge expectations.

For Kishner, sports truly is a way of life. “I was interested in working on sports matters from my first days at Herrick,” says Kishner. “I have been lucky enough to work in that practice and have continued to grow the group over my tenure at the firm.”

Grow it, he did. The Sports Law department at Herrick over the last three decades has represented major athletic teams and related entities in some of the most complex and headline-grabbing transactions in sports. Kishner, as passionate as he is powerful, has represented major athletic teams and affiliated entities in transactions valued at hundreds of billions of dollars.

“Herrick’s sports law group has been consistently and nationally ranked for excellence,” Kishner says. “We have grown the department immensely, both in size and deal values, and it currently touches almost every department of the firm, including litigation, real estate, corporate, intellectual property, employment, government relations, litigation, tax and private clients.”

The stratospheric nature of the sports industry might make it hard for some people to remain grounded, but Kishner has never struggled with that. The legal powerhouse is a huge proponent of doing what you love, it’s advice he happily doles out and an ethos that he himself lives by.

“My favorite activity merges my personal and professional life,” says Kishner. “I enjoy attending and watching sporting events with friends and family.”

Kishner is ranked among the 2024 Lawdragon 500 Leading Dealmakers in America.

Lawdragon: Where is your focus within deal work?

Irwin Kishner: My work is focused on transactions in the corporate and sports space. In the deals that I lead, the most prevalent types are mergers and acquisitions along with a diverse range of joint ventures. I provide extensive corporate counseling and strategic advice to assist people and companies through the most important transactions in their lives. Critical to my practice is creative lawyering and strategic thinking. Much of my time is dedicated to fostering consensus in boardroom negotiations to move the needle in getting respective parties to a position of yes.

LD: How did you first become interested in developing this type of practice?

IK: I was interested in working on sports matters from my first days at Herrick over thirty years ago. I have been lucky enough to work in that practice and have continued to grow the group over my tenure at the firm.

I am very proud to say that Herrick’s sports law group has been consistently and nationally ranked for excellence. We have grown the department, both in size and deal values, immensely and it currently touches almost every department of the firm, including litigation, real estate, corporate, intellectual property, employment, government relations, litigation, tax and private clients. We have brought countless novel and transformative concepts to life – including regional sports broadcasting, pay-per-view and premium stadium experiences. We have guided stakeholders in professional sports as they have entered into transactions to access capital, invested in interests in teams, entered into services agreements and invested in mixed use developments.

LD: Are there any trends you are seeing in your practice in terms of the types of matters keeping you busy these days?

IK: Absolutely. Artificial Intelligence has certainly become much more significant over the last few years. Not only in the profession, but in the world of sports. AI has transformed the ways teams interact with fans and predictive analytics has had a significant impact on sports betting.

There has also been a trend towards the institutionalization of sports teams. Team valuations continue to rise, which has driven significant activity in the sports stack. We are seeing an increase in complicated ownership structures and a significant increase in the investment of private equity in sports. Not only are we seeing private equity investments in professional teams, but also in additional assets such as the real estate surrounding the team including the stadium itself and the surrounding entertainment and business districts.

LD: Can you describe a recent matter that you’ve handled?

IK: As of late, we have handled many team acquisitions and dispositions. We have also been intricately involved in all aspects of stadium development deals, from media rights to sponsorship agreements and beyond. In our general corporate practice, we have seen a heavy stream of M&A deals recently, including a recent matter in which a client raised hundreds of millions of dollars to build storage facilities in major ports around the globe.

LD: What advice do you have now for current law school students?

IK: I would tell any law school student that it is important to love what you do. It is not enough to have a passing grade – you need to go for the A+ and try to be the best in the room. Also, never forget the human aspect in your work – at the heart of every matter is a person and it is critical to consider that element when crafting strategy and offering recommendations. On the transactional front, you need to work on every deal as if you have a personal stake in the outcome. To your client, their deal is your most important deal, so you should treat it as such.

LD: Was there an early experience or mentor who really helped shape the course of your professional life?

IK: In life you meet a lot of people. It is important to treat everyone you meet with courtesy and respect. Your actions define your character. On the business front, you never know who you will run into again, either as a colleague, a client or an adversary. They will always remember how you treated them in past situations. I have had several former colleagues become clients, which has been the result of the relationship that we built when we worked together in a previous capacity.

LD: How has your practice changed since the early part of your career?

IK: The speed and alacrity of the technology that we use has changed immensely since I first started practicing law. Technological advances have increased efficiency, streamlined communications and provided an avenue to create even better final products. Post Covid-19, we have really learned to work remotely and provide round-the-clock service irrespective of our location and without sacrificing the quality of our product. However, certain areas of the law can never be replaced by technology, namely delivering excellent personal service. The lawyers that excel in that area elevate their practice.

LD: How would you describe your style as a lawyer? How do you think others see you?

IK: I am known to fiercely defend my clients. I am also known as a creative and strategic dealmaker. I aim to be personable and professional with everyone with whom we deal. When you approach a deal, you need to be mindful that the participants are often entering into a long-term business relationship. You need to leave the negotiation, and ultimately the deal, with the parties in the position of continuing a healthy and successful business relationship. As a result of our ability to nurture the business and personal relationships on both sides of a deal, we are often in the position that a prior adversary will hire us to represent them.

LD: And can you share some strategic plans for your practice or firm in the coming months or years?

IK: We will continue to provide excellent service for our clients and cultivate a culture of collegiality and respect at the firm. We also look to continue to grow in the practice areas in which we are market leaders. We compete with some of the biggest and best firms in the areas in which we are well known and excel. Our price point is a big advantage for our clients – we can deliver the same level of service that a larger firm can, but our cost structure allows us to do so at a much lower rate.

After 75 years in our current space, Herrick is relocating and reimagining our New York City offices. This move is one way our firm is adapting to the current way in which we work and live. We are always looking for efficiencies, our new offices will allow us to be more efficient in our space, which will translate to the exceptional services that we provide to our clients.

LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?

IK: My favorite activity merges my personal and professional life: I enjoy attending and watching sporting events with friends and family.

LD: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing now?

IK: There was never a plan B. I always wanted to be a lawyer.

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