For many attorneys and law students aspiring to utilize their legal degrees to work in the sports industry, an in-house position with a professional organization is considered the peak of an arduous climb to the top of the sports law world. Oftentimes, legal positions in some of the mainstream sports in America, namely football, basketball, and baseball, are typically those that are sought after by the sports enthusiasts in the legal world. Nevertheless, due to the exponential growth of its popularity and the constant expansion of its professional leagues, the path toward in-house positions in American soccer has never appeared more open for those aspiring to work within the beautiful game. As an incoming law student who ultimately hopes to attain an in-house counsel position within professional soccer, I wanted to learn from those who are currently in positions toward which I and several others passionate about the intersection of soccer and the law aspire. Accordingly, I decided to start a process that I wanted to document by way of Conduct Detrimental to share with all who are interested – an interview with a member of the legal counsel at every MLS club.
From these interviews, I hope to be able to provide insight into the nature of legal counsel positions in professional soccer. And at the end of this process, I hope that we will all be more knowledgeable on what it requires to successfully convert our greatest passions into a dream occupation.
For this interview, I was fortunate to speak with Peter Tringali – Senior Legal Counsel for the New York Red Bulls, Red Bull Arena, and the New York Red Bulls Academy. A graduate of Binghamton University and Brooklyn Law School, Mr. Tringali worked in private practice in New York until joining the Red Bulls in April 2019. The conversation I had with Mr. Tringali was incredibly informative, and it was an absolute joy to learn from him. The conversation represents Peter’s individual views and opinions and do not purport to reflect the views or opinions of Red Bull or Major League Soccer. With that said, here is the interview with New York Red Bulls Senior Legal Counsel, Peter Tringali:
1. BG: Tell us a bit about your story – what led your interest in working in-house within soccer to develop and the career steps you took that eventually placed you in your current position.
PT: I always liked the idea of working in-house, even before I knew what it actually meant. I thought it would be fun to work for a brand or team where I could support on a variety of matters while providing strategic and business advice (in addition to legal advice) in an environment that is conducive to maintaining sometimes elusive “quality of life”. I never had a specific passion for soccer (though now I do!), but always knew working in sports or entertainment was kind of the dream. In law school I got an internship working in-house for a company that runs military-style obstacles courses/mud runs. For my 2L summer, I was fortunate enough to get a summer associate position in big law and was extended an offer for after graduation. Given the job offer, and my significant student loan debt, I focused less on finding my “dream job” coming out of law school and focused on just getting the most out of the opportunities that I had been presented with – in order to set me up for long term success. It’s a long and winding road. For me, this meant taking on as many different opportunities as I could get my hand on… taking on pro bono matters, helping out different practice groups, etc. When I moved firms, I joined a “pure” transactional practice group so I could learn what it took to negotiate and draft complex contracts and to efficiently run deals.
2. BG: What does a typical workday look like for you as Senior Legal Counsel at the New York Red Bulls? Is your position more of a consultancy role, or do you primarily serve as the club’s representative in all pertinent legal matters?
PT: The cliché answer to this question is also the accurate one: every day is different. We’re responsible for advising the front office, the sporting department and the arena co with legal, risk and strategic advice. A majority of our work is transactional – drafting and negotiating contracts, however we are also responsible for risk and liability issues and disputes. With respect to specific legal doctrine, there is certainly an emphasis on corporate law matters, intellectual property, labor and employment law, FIFA rules and regulations, and data privacy and security law issues.
3. BG: I noticed from your LinkedIn profile that you also serve as Senior Legal Counsel for Red Bull Arena and the Academy program for the Red Bulls. What are some of the differences that you’ve found – if any - between your role for each of these areas of the franchise?
PT: The work I do for RBA focuses on negotiating arena license/rental agreements, contracting with our service providers and vendors, advising on capex improvements, general risk management advice, any personal injury or property damage claims that may arise, and advising on arena policies and rules. In addition to hosting all of our first team MLS matches, we have partnered with the local NWSL women’s team to stage their matches, we host third-party national team or club friendlies, a variety of other sporting events (rugby, lacrosse, football), and even concerts. We also license use of the facility to film, tv, and commercial productions. With respect to the Academy, we have six teams beginning with U12. In addition to providing legal support on any vendor/service provider relationships, we also are responsible for implementing policies and practices regarding the health and safety of our athlete participants and what can more broadly be thought of as “SafeSport” compliance. Finally, we also advise the academy on MLS and FIFA rules and regulatory matters.
4. BG: If you could list 3 of the most important skills necessary to work as in-house counsel for an MLS club and provide a brief explanation for their importance, which skills would you choose?
PT: Ability to effectively negotiate and draft contracts is imperative! Contract work represents more than 50% of my overall workload. In addition to that, I would say communication skills/inter-personal skills are key. Both in order to learn and understand the business’s needs, concerns, and priorities, but also to be able to analyze complex legal issues and communicate the key points in a concise manner. In the law firm setting as a junior attorney, your clients are the partners you work for and you are primarily communicating with other attorneys. Conversely, in-house counsel is required to communicate issues primarily to non-attorneys (at least internally). Working in-house provides counsel the opportunity to build relationships with a wide array of stakeholders, including business clients, ownership, league representatives, counter-parties, and government officials. Building relationships with each of these individuals ensures productive ways of working, trust/accountability, and goodwill.
5. BG: As a law student, did you know that you wanted to work in the sports industry? If so, how did you prepare yourself to accomplish this goal whilst in school? If not, what led you to decide to work in sports and, more specifically, for an MLS club?
PT: As mentioned above, I always had an eye on sports and entertainment, but at the point I took a financial restructuring job in big law, I kind of thought the ship had sailed. I had one sports related internship in law school, I was also able to get some tangentially related sports industry experience working as a paralegal before law school, and in each of my two law firm jobs. I think the best thing you can do to prepare yourself for an in-house generalist role is to focus on transactional skills and develop a well-rounded set of experiences. I feel very fortunate to have this position, but I put in a lot of hard work to set myself up to capitalize on my good fortune.
Self-education is another critical step. Nobody can prevent you from becoming an expert at legal issues impacting the sports industry, or from reading league collective bargaining agreements or publicly filed court documents. If you want to be a sports lawyer, then be a sports lawyer. The job opportunity will follow. Read everything you can get your hands on related to the industry, network and create relationships, and be ready to pounce when the opportunity comes along!
Finally, if you’re still in law school, do whatever you can to get an externship/internship in the industries you want to work. It’ll help you build relationships, learn about the industry, and helps give your resume legitimacy/authenticity.
6. BG: What is the one critical piece of advice that you could offer from your experience to law students aspiring to work in-house not only in soccer but in sports as a whole? Additionally, what is one piece of advice that you could offer about the industry to law students that you wish you were given when you were in law school?
PT: Law students in particular are terrified of being pigeon-holed… It’s such an overblown concern! I interned for government agencies and in the judicial system, practiced bankruptcy/restructuring law for 3 years, and then as a banking and finance lawyer for 3 years before joining Red Bull New York. Focus on gaining a breadth of experience. Try new things. Be humble and curious and don’t pretend you know more than you do. There is pressure to impress, but no seasoned attorney expects a first-year associate to be an expert. Junior associates impress by asking good questions, being eager to learn, working hard, displaying sharp attention to detail and good interpersonal skills. Getting to the level where you can be a successful in-house attorney, especially in demanding areas like sports or entertainment, takes time!
A special thank you to Peter Tringali for his contributions to this article. He can be found on LinkedIn at Peter Tringali.
Bryce Goodwyn is a 1L at Regent University School of Law. He currently works as a Dean’s Fellow completing research and administrative work. He also formed part of the recently established National Sports Legal and Business Society as the East Region Chair. He can be found on Twitter @BryceGoodwyn and on LinkedIn as Bryce Goodwyn.