SBJ/20090817/Special Report

Proskauer Rose has a seat at every table

In a first-of-its-kind quadruple play for sports labor, the four major team sports leagues head into negotiations all represented by the same firm: vaunted New York-based practice Proskauer Rose. Partner Howard Ganz represents the NBA and MLB, and partner Bob Batterman represents the NFL and the NHL.

Proskauer has been advising the NBA, NHL and MLB for many years but more recently added the NFL as a labor client. Covington & Burling, from which former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and current top legal counsel Jeff Pash hail, had been the NFL’s exclusive outside counsel for decades, and also continues to represent the NFL in labor talks.

As outside labor counsel, Batterman and Ganz provide advice on strategy, as well as on issues that can emerge during talks, such as the legality of using replacement players, legal experts say. Both stress that they only advise their clients and do not set policy.

Labor sources say privately that the presence of either signals a tough negotiation.

Ganz has been through several lockouts, including the one that halted the NBA during 1998-99. “I principally deal with the inside lawyers, the principle people who are in charge of bargaining, Rob Manfred and Dan Halem (another former Proskauer lawyer) at baseball and Joel Litvin and Rick Buchanan of the NBA,” he said. “But there are certainly times where I am consulted by or get yelled at by David Stern or Bud Selig.”

Howard Ganz (left) and Bob Batterman provide
strategic advice to their league clients.

Batterman (who also represents Major League Soccer, where the collective-bargaining agreement is set to expire in January) was principal outside counsel to the NHL when it shut down an entire season and emerged with a new CBA widely viewed as the most owner-friendly in sports.

Batterman has an almost mythical reputation, which only grew when the NFL hired him quietly —  some would say secretly — in 2007. 

When SportsBusiness Journal reported nearly a year later that he had been hired, in March 2008, the NFL did not provide much of an explanation as to why he had been brought on, but the late, former NFL Players Association Executive Director Gene Upshaw saw it as an effort by the NFL to replicate what happened at the NHL Players’ Association during the 2004-05 NHL lockout, when a divided players union acceded to owners’ demands.

Ian Pulver, who was NHLPA associate counsel during the lockout and is now an NHL agent, said, “I would urge any group who is negotiating with Batterman to respect, understand and appreciate their adversary.”

Pulver would not comment specifically on his dealings with Batterman while at the NHLPA. But when asked whether Batterman breaks unions, he said, “Bob Batterman is a hard-nosed, smart management attorney who leaves no stone unturned. He will do his best to attempt to execute the orders of his clients including, but not limited to, breaking unions if necessary.”

Batterman, told of the comment, said, “I would be proud to have that on my epitaph.”

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, who led the negotiations with Batterman as principal outside labor counsel during the lockout, said the notion that Batterman is overly aggressive is overblown.

 “He is only a hawk to the extent that his clients’ position needs to be hawkish,” Daly said. “He is a function of what his client wants, and that’s what lawyers do. In terms of his personal interaction, he is extraordinarily engaging; he is a very friendly guy who gets along with everybody.”

Although Batterman and Ganz both serve as outside counsel, Batterman, especially in recent years, has tended to be at the bargaining table more than Ganz.

Rob Manfred, MLB executive vice president of labor, who leads negotiations for the league, said that Ganz was at the table some of the time in 2002 and less so in 2006. But Manfred added, “He is deeply involved whether he is at the table or not.”

Proskauer Rose was one of the first full-service Wall Street firms to get into the business of labor law and represents only management. The firm boasts about 800 lawyers, about 150 of them labor lawyers. Two league commissioners, the NBA’s David Stern and the NHL’s Gary Bettman,  started their careers at Proskauer.

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