COVID-19 and Sports Law – The stakeholders’ legal perspectives

On 1 July 2020, WagArb’s Niklas Luft, together with Alexander Engelhard, attorney with Arnecke Sibeth Dabelstein, co-hosted an online event for sports lawyers, young professionals working in the sports law industry, students and next generation sports law practitioners.

Together with more than 80 participants, the co-hosts discussed the legal consequences of the corona pandemic from the perspective of, respectively, a sports association, a Bundesliga club, a player agent, a sports attorney, and a sports arbitral tribunal. The following brief report is brought to you by the event’s co-host, WagArb’s Niklas Luft.

These times are predestined for online events, also when it comes to bringing together the sports law community’s young practitioners to discuss current sports law related topics. When it became clear that an on-site event will not be possible this year, Niklas and Alexander did not hesitate to take the chance and bring together five top-tier speakers from the sports law industry.

Insightful panel discussions

In their introductory remarks, Niklas and Alexander gave a broad overview on the sports law related topics influenced by the Corona pandemic. Also, they explained the reason for their invitation: Together with other current and next generation sports lawyers, both are reaching out to the sports law community in order to establish a standing forum on sports law particularly addressed at the younger generation.

The sport association’s perspective

The first speaker of the day opened the program with the football association’s perspective on the legal consequences of the Corona pandemic. Dr. Vito Esposito, Senior Legal Counsel at the German Football League (Deutsche Fußball-Liga), gave insights into the association’s challenges in its relations with media partners during the Bundesliga’s suspension. Having just recently completed the tender process for the media rights to the German Bundesliga, his presentation then focused on the particularities of the tender process during the pandemic.

The Bundesliga club’s perspective

The next speaker was Julia Hambüchen, Head of Legal and Compliance of Bundesliga club Borussia Mönchengladbach. From her in-house perspective, some of the main issues over the last months were the influence of the Corona pandemic on sponsorship deals and ticketing. In this context, Julia stressed the solidarity shown by contractual parties in finding consensual solutions, both within the club and among Bundesliga clubs in general. In her presentation, Julia also touched the legal basis for a potential salary cap, especially in light of European Competition Law and the prohibition for undertakings to abuse a dominant market position under Art. 102 TFEU.

The player agent’s perspective

Next up, Alexander interviewed Christian Schmid, a lawyer with Duvinage Lawyers and a successful player agent. Having played professional football himself, Christian shared insights to the player agent’s perspective on the transfer market, potential pandemic clauses in new player contracts, and the severe financial consequences of the pandemic on clubs inside and outside of Germany.

The sports attorney’s perspective

Thereafter, Caroline Dressel, an attorney with Luther focusing on sports and labor law, presented the legal advisor’s perspective on sports law and the Corona pandemic. Her presentation focused on the widely-discussed legal topics of short-time work, salary reductions and contract extensions due to the postponed season finale in professional sport leagues. Also, Caroline gave some interesting insights on the new football players’ alliance, headed by Bundesliga players Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic.

The sports arbitral tribunal’s perspective

Last but not least, Dr. Heiner Kahlert of Martens Lawyers, who together with his team administers the Basketball Arbitral Tribunal (BAT), presented the perspective of a sports arbitral tribunal. Heiner’s presentation focused on the particularity that disputes under BAT Arbitration Rules are decided ex aequo et bono, applying general considerations of justice and fairness. In the context of the Corona pandemic, he explained how the BAT’s arbitrators were able to set guidelines on what they perceived to be just and fair solutions, under the ex aequo et bono standard, to substantive issues typically arising during the Corona pandemic.

Key takeaways

One of the key takeaways in relation to COVID-19 and sports law is that the pandemic’s extraordninary circumstances led to an increased sense for solidarity among sports’ stakeholders. Despite numerous legal issues that came up during the pandemic, e.g. with regard to player contracts, media rights and sponsorship relations, stakeholders throughout the sports industry showed a strong preference for jointly agreed solutions – a fact that is particularly noteworthy (and pleasing) from a dispute resolution practitioner’s point of view.

More events to follow

The event was very-well received by the audience, which followed up with many questions for the panelists after the panel discussion. The post-Q&A session was followed by a virtual get-together. On three virtual bar tables, the informal exchanges continued long after the panel discussion had officially ended.

Thank you to the panelists and the audience for their active participation. As one of the co-hosts, I am looking forward to similar events to come – hopefully also in person. Stay tuned…


Niklas Luft

Niklas is a German Attorney, admitted to the Berlin Bar since 2020. He studied law at the University of Heidelberg with a specialization in public international law and worked in the dispute resolution practice group of a major international law firm in Frankfurt and Berlin. Throughout this time, he gained experience in the areas of […]

About Wagner Arbitration

The law firm WAGNER Arbitration has its offices in Berlin and specializes in dispute resolution with a focus on arbitration. In addition, the firm offers comprehensive counseling services related to domestic and international business disputes and transactions.