Sports, entertainment, and art law offer immense growth opportunities for lawyers who are properly trained, willing to learn, and are interested in working in these dynamic and exciting industries, according to Professor Emeritus Michael E. Jones, who teaches a popular class on these fields at UMass Law.
“Sports, entertainment, and art law are three related fields that deal with the legal issues surrounding the sports, entertainment, and art industries,” explained Jones, who has engaged in pioneering research on sports and entertainment law at the college, Olympic, and professional levels and serves on numerous sports governing bodies. “These industries are often characterized by their high-stakes and high-profile nature, with significant amounts of money and reputations on the line.”
To further student interest in the field, UMass Law 2Ls Justin Taylor and Jason Lee formed SEAL—the Sports, Entertainment, and Art Law Club.
Already working in sports law is newly certified NBA player agent Tobi Oadedokun, JD ’19, who says his UMass Law degree provides a strong advantage in negotiating and understanding contracts.
Legal issues in Sports, Entertainment, and Art Law
According to Jones, sports law deals with the legal issues surrounding professional and amateur sports, including contracts, intellectual property, doping and performance-enhancing drugs, and player safety. Sports lawyers represent athletes, teams, leagues, or governing bodies.
Entertainment law, Jones explained, focuses on the legal issues surrounding the entertainment industry, including music, film, television, and theater. Entertainment lawyers may deal with issues such as copyright, contracts, talent representation, and licensing.
Art Law deals with the legal and ethical framework that governs the creation, distribution, and protection of art and cultural heritage. The subject includes laws and principles related to intellectual property, contract law, tax codes, constitutional law, and international trade. The law has a unique role in the art industry because when disputes arise over conflicts regarding ownership, authenticity claims, reproduction rights, fair use, infringements, and the preservation of cultural heritage, it is the source and means for resolving these disputes.
Strong student interest in class
The Sports, Entertainment, and Art Law class, introduced last fall at UMass Law, filled up on the first day of enrollment and will be offered again this fall. Jones and a colleague from UMass Lowell, where Jones taught and was director of the Legal Studies Program, developed the first university course of its kind for non-law students.
“As I continued to teach and practice in the sports industry as an agent for television personalities and professional athletes, I realized that sports was a form of entertainment,” Jones said. “I decided to incorporate an entertainment section into the course. Drawing from my own experiences as a visual artist who creates licensed posters for the summer Olympic Games, I recognized how the visual depictions and publicity rights of celebrities, entertainers, and sports figures in licensing deals could be considered a form of art. As a result, the course evolved into what is now collectively referred to as Sports, Entertainment, and Art Law.”
Among many related topics the class covers are free expression, censorship, and privacy in the art world; copyrights, trademarks, and fair use doctrine; publicity rights; defamation and internet protection of websites; an introduction to the world of sports, Olympics, and NCAA; Title IX; performance-enhancing drugs in professional and Olympic sports; agents and contracts; as well as torts and criminal law and justice.
“Teaching the class was an incredibly rewarding experience for me,” said Jones, who served as an appeals judge at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games. “These students were highly motivated and engaged, which created a dynamic and stimulating classroom environment. Their intellectual curiosity and critical thinking led to in-depth discussions and debates that challenged both the students and me on topics that had real-world ethical and legal implications.
“Teaching students who were smart and always prepared for class allowed for the exploration of complex legal concepts, ethical challenges, and theories in greater depth, which was intellectually invigorating and professionally gratifying especially where the issues did not have straightforward answers or solutions.”
“Professor Jones’ class focused on firsthand experience in the field,” said Lee. “You can’t get that from a book. With online sports betting, the creation of the XFL, Title IX, the Department of Justice investigating the dispute between PGA Tour and LIV Golf, the lawsuit brought by the U.S. women’s soccer team, and college athletes now getting paid, this field has a greater presence and is growing so rapidly.”
Sports, Entertainment, and Art Law Club (SEAL)
Taylor and Lee both played sports in high school and college before attending UMass Law. Taylor, a native of Las Vegas, NV, graduated from St. Leo University in Florida, played football, and was the lacrosse team captain his senior year. Lee, from Merced, CA, played basketball, football, and golfed in high school and swam at the University of California-Merced.
“The main goal of creating SEAL was to allow UMass Law students to explore different areas of law. We understand and appreciate the public interest mission of the law school, but we wanted to offer a club that provided opportunities to branch out into other areas of law,” said Taylor.
The club opened with 40 members last fall. They’ve participated in a softball tournament against other law schools in the Northeast and Lee attended a symposium on sports law in New York to network with possible speakers for their organization. Next fall, they hope to organize a career workshop to help law students tailor their resumes for careers in sports and entertainment law and provide background on jobs in the field. Lee and Taylor hope that interest in the club will grow as they add more speakers and events. They plan to reach out to other law schools and credit their advisor, Professor Philip Cleary, for his help.
“This is our opportunity to give the law school new options while retaining what it’s all about—pursuing justice,” said Taylor.
UMass Law experience
Taylor said he chose UMass Law based on his experience during the application process. “UMass Law was one of the few law schools that called me when I was accepted. Every other school emailed me. This is one of the more supportive law schools. Professors are eager and willing to help.”
A first-generation lawyer, Taylor said he had no idea what area he wanted to pursue when he arrived at UMass Law. “Sports have always been a big part of my life. Living in Las Vegas, I’m surrounded by the entertainment capital. This club is a way of exploring this path.”
Lee, from California’s central valley, chose UMass Law because he wanted to try living somewhere new and liked the idea of attending the only public law school in Massachusetts. He credits UMass Law for teaching students practical lawyering skills and hopes that SEAL will expose students to different options in their legal careers.
“One thing that we really like about SEAL is that it’s one of a kind. It offers an opportunity to look at changing areas of law in a different light. You can make a career out of your hobby. We have a nice foundation, we have fun, and we really want to see this club grow.”
Careers in sports, entertainment, and art law
Now that the NCAA allows college athletes to be paid for endorsements, both Taylor and Lee see increased opportunities for careers as sports agents for college as well as professional athletes, who will need advice. Taylor sees opportunities in entertainment law, especially in contracts, while Lee expects growth in art law in the areas of trademarks, patents, and art theft. “There are so many platforms now where you can express creativity. That’s going to create more need and opportunities for lawyers,” he said.
These growing fields encompass traditional legal studies in property, torts, criminal, labor and employment, and contract law, which is Lee’s area of interest. “I am very interested in negotiating with athletes and artists. We can take all of what we learn in law school and bring it together in sports, entertainment, and art law,” he said.
While a law degree is not required to become an agent, Oadedokun said it gives him a boost that most agents wouldn’t have. “Contract law is a key part of sports agency as mostly everything negotiated will be memorized by a contract. From NIL (name, image, likeness) deals to a standard NBA contract, the terms and structure of the deal all begin with understanding what consideration and offer you are looking for to be accepted. Becoming an attorney prepared me for the skills needed to zealously advocate for my client in negotiating the best deals, both with a team and sponsors.”
Jones encourages new lawyers to volunteer to acquire knowledge about various industries, their practices, and culture. “You can join an arts organization that supports underprivileged artists and offers legal aid for drafting licensing agreements or writing cease-and-desist letters to YouTubers who violate someone's trademark or copyright. Additionally, each U.S. Olympic national governing body regularly requires legal assistance to serve on boards and hearing panels, which resolve conflicts among athletes, administrators, coaches, and sports promoters.”
Alumni pursue justice in art law and explore the future of sports law
This is not the first foray of UMass Law students in sports or art law.
Raven Francomano, JD ’22, who provided hundreds of hours of pro bono legal services to indigent artists and small nonprofit arts organizations while in law school, was one of only two Massachusetts law students honored by the Supreme Judicial Court last fall with the annual Adams Pro Bono Publico Award. At her UMass Law graduation, Francomano was honored with the Pro Bono Award for 768 hours of pro bono legal services she provided through Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. In total, she accumulated 840 pro bono legal hours. She is now an associate attorney at Jeffrey Leavell, SC in Greater Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Joseph Spadoni, JD ’22, a judicial law clerk at the MA Appeals Court and last year’s Commencement Speaker, wrote an article that was published by the University of Denver’s Sports and Entertainment Law Journal. “The Unconsciousability of the NFL’s Franchise Tag” examines the NFL’s franchise tag system and proposes a change to the CBA to address legal issues surrounding the Franchise Tag’s impacts on tagged players.
Oadedokun, also an associate attorney with a New York City law firm, said, “I like to explain my work as an NBA sports agent as someone who manages and focuses on the success of an athlete’s life and not just their athletic career. Whether it be physical training, financial training, personal health, mental health, it is the duty of the agent to secure and make sure that the individual athlete is in good hands.”
He credits UMass Law for preparing him for this work. “My contracts professor at the time, Professor Jeremiah Ho, did an amazing job teaching his students the higher levels of what contracts are all about. The skills I obtained while studying at UMass Law can never be taken from me and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have started my law career there.”
Sports law is definitely a growing field, says Oadedokun. “College and professional sports are changing globally. Rules and game structure are changing every day, and what athletes can and can’t do are becoming a lot more scrutinized. In my opinion, sports law helps govern what the future of sports will become. Case law will help shape future rules and will hopefully set the tone for law and sports to work cohesively in a way that makes the most sense for the field moving forward.”
“Sports will forever be growing worldwide,” adds Lee. “In our post-Covid lives, sports are making a big comeback.”