BRAZIL BLOG: Sports and entertainment is creeping up the radar of Brazil′s big firms – but does it provide enough work for a partner to focus on it exclusively, asks Clare Bolton

The reason this week′s goalless draw in the football match between Argentina and Brazil was a somewhat lacklustre game, say some, is because the countries′ European stars were not called home to take part. But Brazil at least was packing some punch, with the high profile Ronaldinho, Neymar and Damião on the pitch – and that they are domestically based, for some, is evidence of a much bigger trend in Brazilian football. It is now such big business in Brazil, and the currency difference so much altered over the last few years, that staying home is beginning to look like a better option for players.

Of course, the trend can be overstated – Jô and Denilson came back, but Carlos Tevez stayed in the UK; others say Neymar is just waiting for Santos to win the local championships before he and his trademark Mohican cross the pond. But nonetheless, the landscape, the opportunities and the sheer value of the industry are shifting – which is of course making law firms sit up and take note. ′Brazilian football is changing fundamentally, with some of the best players staying or coming back,′ says Simon Firth of Maples & Calder, which has a large global sports practice. ′That′s generating work at the highest end for firms.′

Sports law in Brazil, like elsewhere in the world, has long been the domain of boutiques deeply specialised in the area, with the amount of work historically not high enough to register on the radar of the blue-chips. Eduardo Carlezzo, for example, runs a small firm overwhelmingly focused on football which, he says, has 95 football clubs on the books from seven countries. ′The practice area has grown without doubt over recent years, and most of the work is done by boutiques – although there are also many experts working inside the clubs,′ he says. ′The area has a very different profile [to corporate work], and you need to understand those particularities to do it well.′

That is beginning to change however. Almost all the big firms now purport to offer sports law, even if only a small number can genuinely claim to have a practice. Alberto Murray runs PR Murray Advogados, which was founded by his father, a former judge of the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne; the sports law practice, says Alberto Murray, ′is certainly growing, and broadening in types of work, particularly as the World Cup is coming up.′ Does he see more competition from the big law firms these days? ′Certainly, but real competition only from a few.′

Interesting deals are ticking up. For example, last week Amir Bocayuva of Barbosa Müssnich & Aragão Advogados helped Brazilian football legends Ronaldo and Zico and a sports agency launch a social network specifically aimed at football. Bocayuva spent some time in-house for Rio de Janeiro club Flamengo, at a time when a major shareholder was facing bankruptcy – a baptism of fire for the legal issues clubs can face. He too sees a significant upturn in sports work: ′There are much more frequent deals and transactions now [as compared to five years ago],′ he says. ′Because of the World Cup, more companies not specifically related to the industry are becoming much more interested in sponsorship and marketing opportunities, for example.′

Friday marked 1000 days until the start of the World Cup in 2014, and also the start of a huge advertising campaign by the Brazilian government designed to deflect criticism of the organisation of the games, with Sports Minister Orlando Silva getting heavy TV airtime for his messages of preparedness and pride. And while many doubt the claims as related to infrastructure, there is without doubt a collateral boost for the country′s domestic football teams – Soccerex, one of the world′s two largest conferences for the football industry, has decamped to Rio for three years as, say organisers, that is where the business is.

However, while business is growing, partners need to have another concurrent practice to make sure they and their teams are billing sufficiently. ′It is still difficult to keep an area totally focused on sports and entertainment – I would say it currently takes up around 40 per cent of my time,′ says BM&A′s Bocayuva. Machado, Meyer, Sendacz e Opice Advogados′ Ivandro Sanchez, who has a noted practice in the field, combines sports law with project finance and infrastructure – between which there are obvious links, of course, particularly in Brazil today – while at TozziniFreire Advogados, Antonio Felix Cintra is head of capital markets while also practising sports law. Veirano Advogados′s Luis Pacheco very much enjoys his sports and entertainment practice, but admits it is his renowned oil and gas practice which pays the bills; Demarest Advogados′s Luiz Fernando Henry Sant′Anna is much more known for his environment practice; while at Pinheiro Neto Advogados, Adolfo de Carvalho does everything from aeronautics to capital markets, including sports law.

Nonetheless, while the business opportunities of course remain paramount, sports and entertainment as a practice has another draw for lawyers – it is more fun. Brazil is a country where a number of little boys grow up wanting to be footballers, and a proportion of those end up as lawyers. Being invited as favoured legal advisor to the camarote at your favourite club unsurprisingly seems more of a perk than your average pencil manufacturer can offer – and while no-one can suggest that is the only reason to do it, every profession in the world brings associated benefits, the enjoyment of which should be part of the job.

However, some of those with a smart business eye are looking beyond football – now a more crowded practice area - to bigger, more untapped opportunities. Over lunch, one sports and entertainment lawyer pointed out that sertanejo music – Brazilian country – is so huge the industry is worth more to the country than football and Carnival combined. I could not find figures for this so cannot confirm that is true, but certainly the annual sertanejo festival in Barretos in August attracts a million people to the deep interior of the country, and last year Mariah Carey headlined, certainly a sign of its dollar value. My lunch partner may be right about the unexplored business opportunities for sertanejo lawyers – but if the big firms are just really starting to focus on footballers, cowboys might be a step too far just yet.

(Latin Lawyer 19.09.2011)

(Notícia na Íntegra)