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Published March 8, 2010
Chances are, Mark Whitaker may be the only self-described computer nerd and poetry major toiling in professional sports. And not only does Whitaker have a degree in Renaissance poetry, he says it helps him as a sports finance legal specialist. Really.
“The study of poetry is about trying to determine the meaning of the poet,” Whitaker said. “As a guy who spends his entire professional life either drafting or reviewing contractual obligations that directly affect my clientele, I spend my time trying to be sure the meaning of the contracts that underlie the deals are clear and unambiguous.”
Whitaker’s area is the loans and bond offerings that help finance stadiums and fund team purchases. He has worked on ballpark financing for the New York Yankees and New York Mets, the Chicago Cubs acquisition, refinancing Gillette Stadium, and financing for the new stadium for the New York Jets and Giants.
His job is to ensure the deals comply with league debt rules, meet tax-exempt standards if necessary, and ensure that the greatest amount of cash flows from the proceeds to the borrower. “It’s on the structural side where I earn my keep,” Whitaker said.
The big change in the last several years is not surprising: Borrowers increasingly are facing steeper financial requirements as lenders get shy about extending credit.
“Creditors are much more in your day-to-day business,” Whitaker said.
After college, Whitaker worked in computers for a year before going back to school to get a law degree. Poetry majors, he said, either end up teaching poetry or in another line of work.
While employed at his firm, Nixon Peabody, Whitaker spent time working on the sale of the Ottawa Senators. That fairly quickly developed into an overall expertise in sports finance, which now consumes most of his work hours.