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Roundtable: Sports & Entertainment 2013

The International Who’s Who of Sports & Entertainment Lawyers has brought together Stefano Sbordoni of Studio Sbordoni to discuss levels of activity, pressure on fees and the rise of in-house teams, and developments in the legal market in their jurisdictions.

Which sectors of your industry have been most active in recent times? Are there new trends and developments in your jurisdiction that have impacted on the nature and volume of work you have seen over the past year?

Stefano Sbordoni: In the gaming industry the impact of performing video lottery terminals has been relevant, notwithstanding the arguable ruling that forces operators to stress the machines without sufficient earnings. This creates a media campaign of negative opinion that will lead to restrictions imposed by the very same authorities that originally caused the problem. The expansion of online gaming is a mere consequence of the expansion of web usage; even here, the alarm created by the media is excessive and can cause the effect of directing gamblers toward illegal and careless operators. As concerns betting, the effects of recent national and international scandals on match-fixing have had more impact on operators than on clients. The national regulator, ADM, has launched a tender for the opening of 2,000 new betting shops, with the intent of combating non-licensed operators. The crisis is not helping, and even this sector, which until recently performed well, is suffering. But the blame has to be put mostly on the mismatched conduct of the relevant institutions.

We have heard reports of increasing pressure on fees and of clients growing the size of their in-house legal teams. Is this the case in your experience and what effect is it having on the legal market?

Stefano Sbordoni: It is true. The increase in in-house legal teams, however, causes another problem: the need for employees to show performance, that goes often to the detriment of consolidated external legal advisors, and more often without a tangible benefit for the client. The pressure on fees is part of the problem, and only structured professionals can bear it without too much damage. Thankfully, experience and know-how in this sector are hardly replaceable.

Have there been any changes to the type of firms you are seeing in your jurisdiction and their market share in recent years? What is the balance like between boutiques and full-service international firms?

Stefano Sbordoni: Over here big firms are suffering fixed costs and pressure on fees more than boutiques, which can be flexible. But boutiques without a specialisation or a consolidated/acknowledged competence do risk disappearing all of a sudden. So the trend is towards boutiques, but at lower fees. With the end (we all hope) of the crisis in the near future, the big firms will regain their position.

Are there any particular changes you are expecting to see in the sports and/or entertainment industry and legal market in the near future? What type of legal work do you think will be most busy?

Stefano Sbordoni: Sport and entertainment will be more and more structured, needing a better support from legal and advisory firms. The technical aspects will be stressed, thus requiring (again) specialised assistance. We expect to see all of this, notwithstanding the insufficient degree of competence of decision-makers in the public institutions (such as parliament, government and the relevant authorities) that are still led by political interests. There is a lack of capacity of reading the future that impedes the issuing of key provision that could accompany the success of sport, entertainment and gaming industries. The legal work we expect is a consequence of the above.