Prof Paul Weiler on Sports and Entertainment Law

WProf Weilerhen he launched Sports and the Law, Weiler discovered it was an easy task to gather course material-sports stories fielded by the media daily had plenty of legal dimensions for students to examine. There was no good law textbook available, however, so he went ahead and coauthored one: Cases, Materials and Problems on Sports and the Law, published in 1993 by West, with a second edition due this year. Course preparation proved just as pleasant for Entertainment, Media, and the Law, for which he clipped articles from trade and newsstand publications like Billboard and Vanity Fair, and attended movies, concerts, and plays. When he discovered the same gap in serious entertainment law coverage, again he wrote the book: Entertainment, Media, and the Law, published by West in 1997.

Although he covers sports and entertainment in two separate courses, sports is usually regarded as part of the entertainment industry, which is perhaps ten times larger than the entire sports world, Weiler says. "The definition of entertainment, to include all fun and leisure activities, encompasses sporting events, movies, broadcasting, book publishing, even gambling and going to theme parks," he explains, as well as new media, a fast-growing offshoot.

Aiming a kick at soccer salary caps. "To avoid scrutiny under the Sherman Act, a recently formed U.S. sports venture, Major League Soccer (MLS), is apparently structured as a 'single entity'; all soccer franchises are owned by the league, which in turn is owned by investor-operators. This structure is targeted especially at the players market, with each player having to sign a Standard Player Agreement and negotiate contract terms with a single MLS department. In 1997, the players filed a class action antitrust suit challenging the MLS salary cap and other unilaterally created restraints in the players market." - P.W.
"From the industry's perspective, there's considerable overlap between sports and entertainment," Weiler says. Many sports stars pursue lucrative TV, movie, and book deals, for example. But of greater significance, he notes, is the trend for huge entertainment conglomerates to purchase sports franchises in order to broadcast the games on their cable and network channels. Time Warner owns the Atlanta Hawks [basketball] and the Atlanta Braves [baseball], for example. Disney owns the Mighty Ducks [hockey] and the Anaheim Angels [baseball]. And Rupert Murdoch's Fox network wants the L.A. Dodgers [baseball]. "The biggest money in sports," Weiler says, "are the revenues from broadcasting, not ticket sales."

From a legal and public policy perspective, however, qualitative differences exist between the sports and entertainment realms. In sports, owing to the nature of competition, the legal focus is on "establishing a level playing field inside and outside of the game," through scrutiny by legislators, courts, and administrative agencies. In entertainment, the focus is on "speech for fun and profit," Weiler says. The goal is to protect creative speech from undue legal intrusion on the one hand, and on the other to control the host of ways in which law helps define and shape speech products, whether by creating intellectual property in a performing artist's work, for example, or by allocating space in the electromagnetic spectrum to broadcasters.