The Journal on Sports and Entertainment Law recently sat down with Megha Parekh, the Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of the Jacksonville Jaguars, to discuss current issues involving the Jaguars and sports law in general. Megha Parekh joined the Jaguars as vice president and general counsel on March 1, 2013, and was named senior vice president, chief legal officer in 2016. In her role, Ms. Parekh is responsible for oversight of all legal matters, including transactions, compliance, disputes, risk-management, government relations, and insurance, as well as people development and training, and information technology. Since joining the Jaguars, Ms. Parekh has worked on team-owner Shahid Khan’s acquisition of Fulham Football Club, the $63 million public-private funded improvements to EverBank Field in 2014, and the $90 million project involving renovations to the US Assure Club in addition to construction and the 2017 opening of Daily’s Place. Ms. Parekh has also worked on the extension of EverBank’s naming rights and selection of a new food, beverage and merchandise provider for EverBank Field. Prior to joining the Jaguars, Ms. Parekh worked in the New York office of the law firm Proskauer, which is an international law firm known for its preeminent sports law group. During her time at Proskauer, she worked on public and private acquisitions and financings and securities offerings, including the acquisition of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Houston Astros and the Cleveland Browns. While at Proskauer, Ms. Parekh also worked on a variety of matters including public and private company acquisitions and equity and debt financings. Ms. Parekh was named in December 2012 and 2013 to Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 Sports List, which honored the country’s top sports athletes and executives under the age of 30 who “represent the entrepreneurial, creative and intellectual best of their generation.” Ms. Parekh has also been named a Woman of Influence (2014) and Ultimate Attorney (2016) since coming to Jacksonville. Ms. Parekh joined Proskauer in 2009 after graduating magna cum laude from Harvard College and Harvard Law School. While in school she was a sports writer for The Harvard Crimson and served as an intern for baseball’s Boston Red Sox. Ms. Parekh also serves on the board of the Florida Sports Foundation and works with Women in Sports and Events.
The interview was conducted by Loren Shokes (Class of 2017), the Executive Editor of Online Content and the Online Interview Editor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law. The interview is part of JSEL’s interview series with lawyers in the entertainment and sports field that will be featured on JSEL’s website. It has been edited for clarity.
**Please note that, throughout this interview, Ms. Parekh was speaking in her capacity as an individual and a scholar, and not as a representative of the Jacksonville Jaguars**
Loren Shokes, Journal on Sports & Entertainment Law (JSEL): You were appointed as the Jaguars’ General Counsel only a few years after joining the law firm Proskauer Rose. Can you speak more about your decision to join the Jaguars and your transition from working as an associate at a large law firm to in house counsel for a professional football team.
Megha Parekh (MP): I was offered the job as General Counsel of the Jaguars about three and a half years after practicing at Proskauer in New York. While at Proskauer, I was part of the business law group, and I had the opportunity to work on a variety of deals, including securities offerings, credit and debt facilities, public and private M&A, intellectual property licenses, and other matters. One of the deals I worked on was the acquisition of the Jaguars for our current owner, Shahid Khan. About a year after the Jaguars deal closed, the then-general counsel of the Jaguars went to the Cleveland Browns (also an acquisition I had worked on), and I was offered the opportunity to come to Jacksonville. I knew that ownership and management had a reputation for being incredibly dynamic and for empowering their people, so while it was difficult to leave Proskauer, I simply could not pass up the professional opportunity to work for an NFL team and the ownership and management team here.
I transitioned not only from law firm to in-house counsel, but also from New York to Jacksonville. One of the first things I had to do after moving to Jacksonville was buy a car, my first since high school. In terms of the work, the breadth of work as an in-house counsel is much greater (but also, to some degree, shallower) relative to the breadth of work at a law firm. Towards the end of my time at Proskauer, I was working primarily on M&A and finance transactions; once coming to Jacksonville, my responsibilities were broadened to include labor and employment law, litigation and dispute resolution, and also human resources, IT and office services. In addition, management at the Jaguars assists with certain other undertakings of our owner. Once of the first transactions I worked on was the acquisition of Fulham Football Club, our sister company in the UK.
JSEL: Your current role as the Jaguars’ Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer involves far more than tackling the clubs’ legal issues and disputes. Along with Shahid Khan, owner of the Jaguars, you played an integral role in the acquisition of the English Premier League’s Fulham Football Club, the $63 million improvements to the Jaguars’ home stadium EverBank Field, and the $90 million renovation project to the US Assure Clubs including a new amphitheater and flex field. With such a wide range of duties, how to you decide what responsibilities you and other members of your team should perform and when to use outside counsel?
MP: Admittedly, I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to legal work at the Jaguars, and I try to limit use of outside counsel unless a matter truly involves something that will need special advice (e.g., tax, foreign law matters, etc.). I find that I need to have an intimate understanding of the business operations and the goals of my colleagues to be able to provide them with the most effective legal services; that’s just something that is difficult for outside counsel to replicate.
Within the legal team, we tend to divide and conquer the overall workload in the hopes that everyone will (a) continue to learn and have a general base of skills and (b) be able to maintain a reasonable workload and, relatedly, a reasonably quality of life (including taking advantage of Jacksonville’s beautiful beaches). That said, my background is from a law firm, and so I have the most experience with and tend to handle most of our M&A and finance; our general counsel has a background from other teams and so handles much of our sponsorship and employment-related matters; and our associate general counsel has a background in software licensing and intellectual property, so she takes the lead on handling many of those matters.
JSEL: Since 2013, the Jaguars have played at least one game each season in London and signed an agreement to continue to do so until 2020. What are some of the legal questions and complications involved in playing a professional football game in a foreign country?
MP: Luckily, we are able to rely on the expertise of Fulham Football Club’s phenomenally talented general counsel to help us as we navigate the legal issues relating to the Jaguars business in the UK. The primary areas of sensitivity are labor and employment law, tax law, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and UK Bribery Act, and data protection laws. These are not novel issues, per se, but the regulatory schemes around the foregoing are different than what exists in the US.
JSEL: You have been on panels with Dolores DiBella, the Vice President of Legal Affairs at the National Football League, and you also know her personally. Through your conversations with Ms. DiBella, in your opinion what are the differences and similarities between working for the NFL and a specific football team?
MP: The League has a different perspective than the individual clubs, in that the League is consistently trying to protect the interests of all 32 clubs. Of course, at the team level, we want to do what’s best by the League but also have different, specific, local issues that arise from time to time.
JSEL: While a student at HLS, you interned for the Boston Red Sox. Do you find that in house counsel jobs for professional sports tend to be more alike than different, despite being in different leagues and entirely different sports?
MP: In house counsel jobs differ less by league and sport, and more by what ends up on the particular lawyers plate and the structure of rights. For instance, because the City of Jacksonville owns the stadium in Jacksonville, the matters that arise related to that are much different than for a team counsel whose team owns the stadium. I have responsibility for IT, which means that I get to focus on a lot of technology-related matters that other team counsel may not. That said, in the MLB and NBA, the teams have more local media rights, which is a significant difference from the NFL.
JSEL: As a Board Member for the organization Women In Sports and Events (WISE), can you speak more about what WISE does and how you become involved?
MP: I first became involved with WISE when providing pro bono services to help WISE modify its certificate of organization and bylaws. After assisting with various governance-related matters, I was asked to join the board. WISE does a tremendous job of offering women professionals in sports (who may or may not be athletes themselves; my hand-eye coordination is nothing but generally embarrassing) with resources and networking opportunities.
JSEL: You were twice honored by Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Sports List, which honors the top sports athletes and executives under 30 years of age who “represent the entrepreneurial, creative and intellectual best of their generation” for your work on representing Jimmy Haslam, chairman of Pilot Flying J, and certain members of his family in connection with the purchase of the Cleveland Browns football franchise as well as advising Crane Capital Group in the purchase of the Houston Astros baseball team while at Proskauer. You were also named a Woman of Influence in 2014 and Ultimate Attorney in 2016. To what and/or whom do you attribute to your success?
MP: Any credit for work that I do must be shared with (a) my family (who instilled discipline and reinforced the virtue of hard work), (b) my friends (who have always worked to try to make me more well-rounded, even when I was most comfortable studying all day), and (c) my professional mentors (who took the time to train me and teach me how to solve complex problems).
JSEL: When EverBank Field was undergoing its $150 million renovation, you and team owner Shahid Khan envisioned making the stadium more of a community-centered space that emphasized some of Jacksonville’s best qualities, including its beaches. What was the inspiration behind doing so and what do you think makes EverBank Field different than other teams’ home stadiums?
MP: EverBank Field showcases 18 video boards in the stadium, including two large boards above the north and south end zones. The technology in the stadium illuminates the fans and the fields, and offers people a view of live action and video that simply cannot be replicated at home. In addition, given that it is Florida and that Jacksonville has beautiful beaches and weather, the Jaguars added two spas to the north end zone so fans could enjoy the comfort of being at the beach and watching a game. EverBank Field also features a number of very unique premium products, including field-level seats and “chalets” that replicate living rooms. One of the core values of the Jaguars is to seek innovative opportunities, and the stadium certainly reflects that.
JSEL: In 2014, Shahid Khan invited you and other senior level executives at the Jaguars to an NFL owners meeting, an untraditional business practice for an owner but it showed his trust and commitment to his management team. How often do you work with other senior level executives outside of your legal team and how do you think it has helped the Jaguars’ enterprise as a whole?
MP: I work with executives outside of the legal team every day. We believe is transparency, collaboration, and accountability. While we may disagree professionally from time to time, I appreciate that we have those debates as opposed to operating in silos.
JSEL: What is the best piece of advice you can offer law students who have an interest pursuing a career in sports law?
MP: Consider the various ways in which one could get involved in “sports law”. For instance, lawyers have become everything from in-house counsel to league commissioners to collegiate athletic directors. I’d encourage students to explore the different opportunities available and identify what they are most interested in in terms of subject matter and breadth of responsibility; all jobs in sports are not, in a great way, created the same.