Photo by Laura Barisonzi.
The Houston Texans may have lost to the New England Patriots in the divisional round, but the city still comes out on top this month as host of the Super Bowl. That role is multifaceted and more epic than the game itself – in some ways more epic than an entire NFL season, given that the groundwork begins three years ahead of time.
The planning has been done by the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee, a nonprofit organization set up to be the centralized coordinating force for the Super Bowl and all the events that come with it. The committee chose as outside counsel Ajamie LLP, which is led by perennial Lawdragon 500 member Thomas Ajamie. The veteran litigator is best known for complex financial cases, but he’s happy his firm entered the legal world of giant events. (Read our earlier Lawyer Limelight of Ajamie.)
Lawdragon: Can you discuss the client and the work you are doing?
Tom Ajamie: The Super Bowl, of course, is more than just the big game. There are 10 days of activities leading up to the game, including charitable events, concerts, and parties featuring celebrities and big name acts. The city’s convention center opens up, public and private spaces are turned into entertainment venues, and people come down with their kids to play games and meet NFL players. Major networks Fox, ESPN and CNN will cover these events live.
The Houston Super Bowl Host Committee was established three years ago in Houston to begin the work, just as the host committees for future Super Bowls are already preparing in those cities. Some of the early tasks the host committee accomplished were locking down hotel rooms, and working with the city to temporarily shut down certain streets and events, such as the opera and ballet.
A good portion of the legal work to be done involves contracts for everything from talent to real estate. We have a risk management committee that holds regular meetings to identify all the possible risks that can occur, coordinating with Homeland Security and other federal, state and county law enforcement agencies. We’ve provided preventative legal counsel on how to approach certain vendors or ticket resellers to avoid litigation.
And the work will continue after the game. The host committee can get money refunded under the state’s Major Events Reimbursement Program, which is set up to defray some of the costs. Our work will not stop until the summer, as a lot of work needs to be done for a proper submission.
LD: How did this client come about?
TA: We were hired almost two years ago. The President and CEO of the Super Bowl was attending the Houston Grand Opera. She was reading the corporate sponsor list in the program, recognized my name from our grade school days in Scottsdale, and reached out to me. So my name was put into the mix, and after we went through a rigorous interview process, we were selected as counsel.
LD: Why did you want to be considered?
TA: The business of sports, and the business side of the multibillion-dollar major events industry, has always interested me. And it’s been absolutely fascinating. I am amazed at the hundreds of people who are involved over a period of years in planning a major event of this scale. I had no idea before getting involved of the amount of time, resources and staff that go into the Super Bowl and the days of events leading up to it. I had thought of this as just a football game.
LD: How much of your firm’s time is spent on this?
TA: It’s not the largest, but it’s a significant piece of work – and we’re a boutique. Including myself, I have five people on this. I spend maybe 20 percent of my time on it, while [fellow Lawdragon 500 member] Dona Szak has been spending most of her time on it. Dona even has a desk at the host committee headquarters. The last six months have been extraordinarily busy.
LD: What will you be doing on the day of the Super Bowl? Are you a big fan?
TA: I will be working all day. There are a large number of events besides the game itself – outdoor events open to the public, private corporate events, events with team owners and celebrities, and I will be assigned to those. But it’s fine, I prefer to work more than anything else. I am a football fan, but not a rabid fan.
LD: How was the year for the firm otherwise?
TA: It was great. Obviously we have a lot of very interesting work for our lawyers. I have been working on a matter involving a worldwide bribery scheme, on behalf of one of the corporations involved, which I cannot talk about in detail now.
Also, we represent over 70 partners of AT&T who are suing it for having underpaid them for their interests in cellular partnerships when AT&T forcibly dissolved their partnerships. Damages are over $5 billion. The cases are pending in Delaware Chancery court and should being trial in 2017.
I’ve also been seeing more of the inside of the music business by doing some work for Duran Duran. I met one of the band members at a private party in Sicily. We became friends and he asked for some advice, and the relationship has grown. That’s been great – they’re wonderfully talented guys and I love their music, so I am thrilled to assist them.