Fifth appointment with the FT Classes column and this time we discover one of the key figures in sport business and Motorsport, far from the spotlight: the lawyer
One of the most heartfelt and repeated words in the world of sport is certainly “contract”: transfers, sponsorships, licenses, among the most common. Any movement of athletes or sponsors presupposes an agreement, a contract, but when you enter the field of motorsport, with its exclusivity also given by the limited number of seats available each season, the word “contract” means to be there and really be in game. But who is to define “the contracts” and to allow the parties to find an agreement that satisfies and protects the interests, but at the same time mitigates the risks of each? The lawyers. The sports lawyer A figure as unknown, due to his presence behind the scenes, as it is fundamental, the lawyer also plays a crucial role in sport, although his presence is known almost only behind the scenes, to professionals. To understand how the legal field meets sport, we asked Attorney Riccardo Giacomin of Studio Bergs & More to tell us his professional history and to reveal his background and advice for those who want to pursue this career.
OUT OF THE TRAJECTORY – Hi Riccardo, given the breadth and uncertainty surrounding your professional figure, let’s start by explaining exactly what you do?
LAWYER RICCARDO GIACOMIN – Of course! I am a lawyer, partner of an international firm which has an internal department entirely dedicated to sport for which I am responsible. My career as a “sports lawyer” formally began in 2017, when my profession as a lawyer was officially inextricably linked to my great passion, sport. But it has more distant roots. I have always believed in the need for a professionalization of the legal activity in the sport industry according to the model traced in the United States, convinced that knowing the mechanisms, the logic and the specific structures of such a peculiar and constantly evolving world can only bring added value to protection of the interests of the parties involved. So, when in the previous studio in which I collaborated I was offered the opportunity to found the related sports division, I immediately took the opportunity to launch myself into this challenge with a focus mainly on five areas: football, golf, cycling, major events. and then precisely motorsport which is also a great passion of mine. From here the evolution has been truly dizzying because we have been awarded (last year the lawyer Giacomin was awarded as Sport Professional of the Year by Top Legal Awards on the basis, among others, also of a significant assignment in the field of of motorsport ed) from an incredible growth, especially in the latter area of motorsport where we have expanded our clientele to substantially cover the entire supply chain; from institutional subjects to individual pilots, passing through teams, event organizers, sponsors, rights holders …
A clarification regarding the pilots: we always follow them only from a legal and fiscal point of view, but never with reference to their management. For a precise choice, also in order to avoid situations of potential conflict of interest with the teams we assist, we do not deal with management in the proper sense of the term.
FT – So you work alongside the managers?
RG – Basically yes, individual managers and often management companies, depending on the sector.
FT – So your studio has a sports division or is it just focused on the sports field?
RG – Our firm, like all firms with the same characteristics, also deals with traditional sectors (corporate, commercial, judicial, compliance, etc.) through the professionals who work within it, divided into departments of competence in order to guarantee the maximum specialization in every subject.
In June 2021, with other colleagues, we founded a new international reality, Bergs & More, which is based in Milan, Padua, Dubai, Doha, Nairobi and a couple of other offices soon to open in Moscow and London. Our vocation is international, and the sports division operates mainly in this vein with our consolidated customers and those we gradually acquire.
FT – You told me that it was a pleasure for you to combine your passion for motorsport with your profession as a lawyer. But which one came first, the passion for sport or the passion for the law?
RG – Ah, these are two things that have grown hand in hand! Since I was a child, I have always been a sports fan and the first memories related to motorsport are the races seen on the sofa with my father and grandfather between the 1980s and 1990s, since they date back to 1986. Added to these were the races seen live with them, so I can say that I really have a passion for motorsport from childhood. But since I was a child I have also always thought of becoming a lawyer, so my parents tell me and these are actually my memories too! When I discovered these two things they could have coexisted and become my real profession, I hit the mark!
FT – Before you were talking about the various offices around the world, I imagine that both for logistical and legal reasons and the question that comes to me in this regard is: according to the law of which state is a contract signed in the sports field?
RG – It depends. From the parties, from the links with one or the other legal system, and from their will generally, but it can also vary depending on other factors. In many cases, a “third law”, basically the English one, is opted for since it gives ample space to the contractual autonomy of the parties. It is a legal system that I know quite well as I obtained my master’s degree in International Sport Law in the UK and in the Firm various colleagues are qualified English lawyers: the ability to operate in multiple jurisdictions and / or know more rights is certainly a plus. in the service we offer to the customer and which allows us to assist him at 360 °.
FT – Since you talked about your training, I would have a question about precisely this: to do this job you need theoretical knowledge and basic training, but there are also interpersonal, negotiation and foresight skills that must be developed personally over time. How can it develop or, in any case, what advice would you give to those who want to undertake this profession?
RG – Surely it takes passion, a lot of preparation and good commercial, relational and organizational skills. I have a team of professionals, specialized in the subject, who work with me and all with a fundamental role in being able to assist customers in the best possible way. Obviously my role as partner and head of the department also requires to take care of all the commercial and customer relations part, understand the customer’s needs, identify the most effective technical solution and bring home the result by playing as a team with both the customer and with my colleagues. Understanding the customer and his needs is a crucial element, we need to balance the professional and commercial components making sure that the mix is as balanced as possible: this is certainly a suggestion I can give.
FT – You were saying a little while ago that your figure is different from that of a sports manager, but what is the influence you have in the agreements?
RG – The very nice thing about our job is that we also give support during the negotiation phase to our customers in the negotiation phase. We work alongside our Client and guide and support him in achieving his goals. We operate in view of the final result that our client asks us to achieve: however, we are not the ones who say that, for example, that figure is correct or wrong because that is a commercial issue of management. The dynamics are extremely varied and are also based on the relationship of trust established with the customer; the deeper it is, the more it is possible to operate as a real team, each with his own role, in order to achieve the set results.
FT – And I imagine that one of the most difficult parts of this job is to acquire the first clients: how do they approach them and how do they convince themselves to rely on your firm?
RG – The dynamics are particular and also depend on the type of customer. Some of them are structured and mature with respect to the legal requirement and therefore aware of the added value offered by a specialized law firm; others may be of different opinion or with the need for reduced investments. In this second case, our task is to accredit us as figures capable of protecting the customer from disputes and future disbursements, generating a growing profit in the medium-long term. While this is already widely accepted in English culture, in other countries it is a sensitive issue that must be built over time and demonstrating “on the ground” the usefulness of a certain type of different approach to the legal issue.
FT – One of the things that intrigues me most, if you can talk about it, is one of the strangest clauses that you have ever had to include in a contract.
RG – I confess that the oddities are rare. Contracts are often standardized, although a number of clauses are always subject to negotiation. Surely the most curious aspects are related to “whims” (such as making a private jet available, rather than some considerations related to the choice of teammates), rather than to substantial considerations, even if there is to say that in motorsport the customer is generally aware and not very “whimsical”.
FT – This athlete awareness thing in Motorsport is coming out of more interviews and it’s very cool because they often see themselves as more spoiled than other sportsmen because they are engaged in a sport that is objectively very elitist and expensive. It’s nice to know that, on the other hand, I’m more “down to earth”.
RG – Yes, in my opinion it is also the result of a training they have and which leads them to have a more open mentality. Let’s just think about the linguistic issue: for a driver it is essential to perfectly handle the English language because it is extremely difficult for there to be teams where his language is spoken or that he can carry out his entire career with engineers who speak his language, therefore even only. this aspect, together with the fact that you must necessarily also have technical skills to be able to interpret certain data or provide certain feedback to the engineers, leads the pilot to have a certain type of training and mental breadth.
Surely, at the level of 4 wheels, in the vast majority of cases they are people with very large economic resources, but they are also people who know perfectly well that with their own economic possibilities there are many others and that the seats available at the highest level I am 20. There is already an important basic selection from this point of view, but I remain of the idea that, as in all sports, without sacrifice and commitment, even in motorsport you will not get anywhere.
FT – From your experience, is it easier to work with young or established athletes?
RG – Actually, I must say that I don’t find big differences from a work commitment point of view, but there are different stimuli. With a younger athlete there is the adrenaline to build something together, to mutually develop their careers because maybe your growth also corresponds to yours and vice versa. While with more mature athletes we experience the management of major critical issues related to the public image or to the many aspects to be protected and considered in the negotiations.
FT – What do we find among the most unpleasant situations that can happen?
RG – When it comes to breach of contract, conflict situations become inevitable. These are unpleasant situations because, of course, tensions and discontent are created, but here too, in my opinion, the ability of good lawyers, on both sides, lies in finding a good closure that satisfies the parties, avoiding the delays of a judgment and the relative costs. The philosophy is always that a good transaction is better than lengthy litigation challenges. There was a saying about lawyers: “lawsuit that hangs, lawsuit that yields”: let’s say that we are of the right opinion, in the sense that we always want to give the client the fastest and least expensive solution possible, since the true gain is having a satisfied customer who will continue to rely on you.
FT – In Italy you cannot reveal the name of your customers, why?
RG – Because we lawyers must comply with the rules of our Code of Ethics. Let’s say that the first reason why a lawyer does not reveal the names of their clients is for a reason of confidentiality, but even if the client agrees, in Italy it is not allowed to advertise these reports, even if they are out of stock. You can mention names when we say that it becomes news. In the same way, for example, advertising is forbidden as in the United States and this is something I also agree on because I believe, in any case, it is a profession that must maintain a certain standing and preserve confidentiality in all respects. view.
FT – And if instead a customer wanted to say by whom he is represented, could he?
RG – Absolutely yes, he can do it. The large part of the customers’ acquisitions comes from word of mouth, from customers who have been satisfied and recommend you to others, but even if in very closed and small environments such as motorsport, it is sometimes a little more complex because often inside this microcosm many are competitors.
FT – A curiosity about Red Bull: there is this constant exchange of pilots between Red Bull and Alpha Tauri, how can this be allowed from the point of view of contracts?
RG – Most likely contractual clauses are established within the drivers’ contracts where this unilateral possibility in favor of the team is expressly established, i.e. the team’s discretion to allocate the drivers to one team rather than another, also considering that they are substantially attributable to a single property.
The same thing, for example, of Mick Schumacher: this year he will have the dual role of driver of Haas, as well as reserve driver of Ferrari, certainly in the existing contract between the various parties it has been established that, where necessary , Ferrari will be able to use him as their own driver and Haas will in turn have to look for a replacement.
FT – The agreement between Sauber and Andretti almost closed and therefore the “wave of Indy” that is moving on the world of Formula 1 and the lower classes has returned to the limelight, also because many F2 drivers and F3 often look to the US as a viable alternative to Formula 1 as there is no room for everyone. From your experience, how do you see the future of the relationship between these two realities?
RG – I definitely see it as positive! First of all, it must be said that in the past there had been passages of European drivers to the United States among the most striking cases we remember Mansell and Zanardi both able to win the championship. However, with these exceptions, these steps have not always yielded the hoped-for results. Now times have changed and perhaps they are more mature, in the sense that they also help the “collateral” situations that exist: Formula 1 has American ownership, Indy has a new owner, the well-known American entrepreneur Roger Penske. Let’s say that there are all the conditions for this link between the United States and Formula 1 to become stronger and stronger. I have the privilege and the good fortune to also work in Indy and therefore to know it quite closely. I would like to say that there is also a generational change taking place there and it is an environment that is very modernizing, it can become interesting for pilots who come from minor formulas to approach this world and, why not, maybe after having demonstrated their value in the United States also return to Europe. A very interesting bridge could be created which would also help bring the American market closer to Formula 1, also considering that from next year there will be two GPs in the United States. In my opinion, also due to the times of the races, the American consumer will not be a regular consumer, but he could certainly be a consumer even in very very interesting commercials.
FT – Also because in the United States the concept of sport is different, more “pure entertainment”.
RG – Yes, it is a market that from the point of view of sport and sport business is very fascinating, managed by real sport managers, on the other hand, sport is also entertainment and the approach, including television, is different.
In my experience of MotoGP and MotoGP, I can only hope that the commercial horizons in the post-Valentino period will broaden as they approach the American style. The USA is a land of great fans and it would finally be time for some competitive American driver to come into the limelight again, the last one was Nicky Hayden …
From the point of view of the four wheels, a lot is being done: in addition to F1 which is increasingly looking at the US market, we should not forget what happened with the “convergence” between IMSA and ACO at Daytona with the consequent possibility for competitors to take part with the same car in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and FIA World Endurance, essential for a relaunch of the prototype championships with the LMDH category that will see the main world manufacturers compete against each other with an increase in sponsors and spectators.
FT – Lawyer, anything to add? Any topics you’d like to explore?
RG – Just one thing about litigation: we talked about avoiding conflicts, but sometimes it becomes inevitable. Here opens up an extremely interesting world linked to both commercial litigation (therefore in the Ordinary or Arbitral Courts) or sports, in front of the sports institutions of the various national and international federations, up to the Arbitration Court of Sport in Lausanne. There are some very fascinating dynamics even there of procedural strategy, always in an attempt to give the maximum advantage and the best customer assistance.
FT – And you, on the other hand, would you ever go to a TAS or in any case something different from the job you are doing now?
RG – No, I must say that I really love my job, despite the sacrifices it sometimes requires, since I spend almost half a year away from home. What I do gives me a lot of adrenaline, also because in sport even the legal actions have much shorter time frames. Then also having contributed to helping your customer is of enormous satisfaction because you feel part of the team next to the technicians and the drivers … you rejoice with them when you win races and championships. In short, you feel that you have given your contribution for a common cause and this is priceless!
FT – In short, a small contribution, but not too much! Without a contract there is no running …
RG – Let’s say that without agreements there would be nothing! The figure of lawyers, despite being in the shadows, is a fundamental piece for the entire network of connections and for predicting all the critical issues that can hinder the work of an excellent athlete or an entire team!