The Super Bowl isn’t just football plays and TV commercials.
Yes, it is those things. But there’s also a full roster of Indiana lawyers behind the scenes reviewing legal issues, assessing risk management and making sure the annual event is a safe, successful and liability-free experience for millions of people.
Indy is determined to put its best foot forward with a level of preparedness that organizers say is possibly unmatched in host city history and boosted by good old-fashioned Hoosier hospitality. “I definitely think there’s a level of excitement and enthusiasm and support and unwavering collegiality,” said Dianna Boyce, director of communications for the Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee. “The sense of excitement and the understanding of the international spotlight that this brings is definitely here.”
Planning has been in the works for years, and teams of lawyers have been intimately involved in aspects of the organization and coordination of the big event. Seven of the largest law firms in Indianapolis have agreed to do pro bono work assisting the host committee, with each firm assigned to a specific group that has a responsibility in the event’s planning, such as marketing and communications, operations, special events and volunteers.
John Neighbours with Faegre Baker Daniels said that a couple of years ago he and host committee chair Mark Miles discussed creating a legal committee which would operate with volunteer attorneys in six or seven different areas. Conflicts involving hotels, vendors or others involved in the event could be handled by various members.
“You sure don’t want to have to pay a law firm’s typical hourly rates when it’s mostly contract issues as the largest thing you deal with,” he said. “They agreed to do this pro bono, and that’s a huge contribution from those law firms to do that substantial amount of work.”
Neighbours said the legal committee has met about four or five times, with each law firm reporting to a division head as needed. Neighbours said he’s served in sort of an oversight role for legal affairs. The recent NFL lockout consumed a significant chunk of his time – he analyzed the contract with the NFL about the possible implications a lockout might have and the impact it could have on the Super Bowl if it wasn’t resolved. One of those issues was buying insurance in case the Super Bowl was cancelled.
“Most of the work overlaps with what someone’s expertise might be in and where their counsel is best suited,” he said.
Mark Saltsgaver, who handles corporate risk management for Eli Lilly, said he’s been leading the host committee’s risk management review aspects. Weather and seating issues at the 2010 Super Bowl in Dallas and the Indiana State Fair tragedy in August have provided lessons for those organizing and planning for the Indianapolis event in February.
Analyzing possible risk has been an interesting process, Saltsgaver said. The risk management panel has looked at liabilities created by parking, weather, restaurant space downtown and power outages as well as the implications of long lines. Nearly 300 different types of risks were boiled down to about 25 top concerns and specific mitigation plans were outlined for all of them, he said. “Our goal is to make it through with a safe and great fan experience and that despite all our work, the fans will never have known if we had to pull out and implement a mitigation plan,” Saltsgaver said. “That’s utopia for us.”
One of the attorneys whose insight has been crucial is Dan Emerson with Bose McKinney & Evans, a partner who leads the firm’s sports, entertainment and media practice group. Emerson has represented the Indianapolis Colts and served as the club’s general counsel since 1984. He was one of the lawyers responsible for bringing the Colts to Indianapolis and making sure the club could stay in the city.
Emerson says his workload for the club and owner Jim Irsay has increased through the years. His work has ranged from collective bargaining agreements between players and the league to season ticket trends, leasing contracts and vendor agreements. The RCA Dome lease was simple and straightforward, he said, compared to the new Lucas Oil Stadium development and lease agreement that involved naming rights and concession aspects.
“There are a tremendous number of rules and regulations in the NFL, many of which have pretty extreme consequences if you screw up,” he said. “And the collective bargaining agreements in places read like Internal Revenue Code with increasing traps for the unwary. I’ve mined relationships during those times, always making sure people were crossing the ‘T’s and doing what’s needed.”
This season’s losing record has been a struggle, Emerson admits, on a personal and professional level. While he does “bleed blue,” Emerson said the team’s record impacts his strategy development when it comes to the draft and how games are scheduled for next year.
“The record does impact my job, because it has a derivative trickle down effect on legal, sponsorship and marketing. We are working extra hard to make sure we don’t have a fall off with season ticket holders and sponsors, and that necessarily entails my review of additional approaches and issues,” he said.
The years of experience representing the Colts and dealing with the NFL on various levels has laid a foundation for Emerson to be a part of the planning and organizing for the Super Bowl in Indianapolis. For example, he’s handling issues such as liability for the Colts Complex where the AFC Championship team will practice. Emerson is making sure those players and any potential liabilities are anticipated and a plan is in place. He’s analyzing sponsors at Lucas Oil Stadium and reviewing how suite holders will be affected when the NFL comes in and sets the pace for everything at the stadium. “There’s a number of people losing sleep trying to anticipate the parade of issues we might encounter,” he said. Emerson said for the past year more than half of his professional time has involved the Colts and Super Bowl, but in recent weeks the majority of his time is spent focused on the club and event. “I’ll readily admit there’s a 10-year-old boy inside me that thinks this is all real cool,” Emerson said with a laugh. “This is a big professional football franchise and this is the Super Bowl we’re talking about. How can you not be excited about that? This is going to be a great thing for the city and NFL, and we’re all pretty excited about it.”•