If anyone knows how to stay on track with what’s happening in sports and entertainment law, it’s probably the lead attorney for USA Track & Field.
As general counsel and chief of business affairs for the Indianapolis-based sports organization that governs track and field, running and race walking, Norm Wain is in the right spot to not only help transform and modernize the country’s largest participant sport but also bring together sports and entertainment corporate counsel from across the country.
In the months leading up to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London when an array of events are scattered across the country and world, the organization sees this as a prime time to get sports fans interested in track and field. And Wain is the legal mind charting that path forward.
“We’re exploring many options to make track and field more relevant,” he said. “For me, this position has been dynamic and exciting. It’s presenting opportunities to improve upon the product and build on it, and that’s the type of challenge that gets my juices flowing.”
Although he’s only been with USA Track and Field since July 2010, Wain has been on a course leading to this point since he graduated from Pepperdine University School of Law in 1996. After graduating, he interned for Doug Logan who led Major League Soccer during its inaugural year. Wain hoped to get a job there, but it didn’t materialize and he went to work for a Los Angeles talent agency, Fox Sports World and Big Shot Films International, which created direct-to-consumer videos of professional athletes. He came to Indianapolis in 1999 after taking a position with athletic specialty retailer The Finish Line, and worked for more than a decade as vice president of corporate legal affairs.
A couple years ago, Wain’s first mentor, Logan, took over as CEO of USA Track and Field and the two connected at an Indiana Pacers vs. Los Angeles Lakers game at Conseco Fieldhouse.
“We started chatting at the game, and I joked about there being no statute of limitations on that MLS job offer,” Wain said. “We got a good laugh, and the next thing I know I’m working for him again at USA Track and Field. What sold me on the position was that this sport has been on the decline for several years and the perception is kind of like an Olympic sport – you hear about it every four years and that’s it. We’re trying to professionalize it and make it another strong sports property with regular coverage and consistency.”
As the sole in-house attorney, Wain said his daily duties involve basic corporate counsel tasks such as governance, contracts and policy and procedure reviews. Some tasks might involve developing an integrated marketing strategy that hits across all digital platforms or exploring the possibility of a reality TV show that follows an athlete and leads into coverage of USA Track and Field events with sponsorships.
In revamping the sporting events, Wain said he’s looking at creating new events that could coincide with a network TV season and setting up more local events – such as a “city games” concept that could involve a sprint down Washington Street in Indianapolis where bleachers are set up on the sidewalks.
“You run it from A to Z, and that’s part of the challenge,” he said about the job. “Athletes want it to be a professional sport and they want to see the money associated with that professionalism. We’re laying a foundation and trying to secure and protect our events, to properly package for the sports world.”
The organization’s chief communications officer, Jill Geer, said Wain’s role as general counsel is different from his predecessors. He’s been more involved in the overall strategy and planning aspects of the USA Track and Field.
“As general counsel, Norm can go from soup to nuts very quickly,” she said about his ability to adapt to whatever is needed. “We’re in the midst of changing our businesses model, and he’s been more actively involved on the front end, where in the past general counsels were on the back end just drafting contracts. This gives Norm the ability to prevent some of those 11th-hour changes and problems.”
Wain’s influence in the corporate counsel world extends beyond Indiana. He’s not only the former president of the Association of Corporate Counsel of Indiana, he also serves as a member of the ACC’s national governing board. In that role, he has taken the lead in making sports and entertainment law a focus for corporate counsel nationwide.
On Nov. 30, the ACC announced the creation of a new Sports and Entertainment Committee, aimed at serving members with an interest in those areas of law and focusing on specific issues such as contracts, licensing, sponsorships, endorsements, technology and intellectual property.
The new committee has been in the works for about a year, according to Wain, based on a concept that he formulated with Ellen Zavian, the first female sports agent representing NFL players and now associate general counsel for the ACC. The pair attended another sports law association’s conference and heard updates in the world of sports and what was happening in each individual league, but there wasn’t anything specific to corporate counsel, Wain said. They explored the idea and found a strong interest for something more among the general counsels for sports teams, professional leagues, amateur sports and other related businesses. Last year, they created an interest group focusing on those areas.
“There are different sports organizations for sports lawyers out there, but neither of us felt that those organizations hit the day-to-day legal issues that come across the desk of in-house sports lawyers on a regular basis,” Wain said. “There wasn’t anything touching on those nuts and bolts of what we handle every day, like real estate or concessions, player deals or sponsor agreements.”
Wain plans to chair the new committee before stepping aside in October 2012.
The new committee’s goal is to use eGroups, legal updates and local events nationwide to connect with the organization’s 29,000 members and provide corporate counsel specific resources, Wain said. Members have already presented CLE programs at the organization’s annual meeting in St. Louis.
“Members of the sports industry in general are coming together more and more to network and support each other,” said Amie Peele Carter with Baker & Daniels’ sports and entertainment law group, who created the nonprofit Sports Circle Indy networking organization earlier this year. “The ACC has become more active in recent years in supporting general counsel in niche areas, and targeted groups can be very effective resources for general counsel as a means to discuss ideas, current topics of concern and best practices.”•