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In Conversation with Tushar Katheria On Navigating the Sports Law Industry, Starting a Niche Law Practice & More

Tushar Katheria is a Founder of the Katheria Sports Law Offices. He completed his BBA LL.B. (Hons.) from the Symbiosis Law School, Pune. Further, he completed his Masters in Laws in International Business Law from the University of London, UK. He also completed his PG Certificate in Sports Law from the University of London, UK. He has experience working with clients in Australia, India, the US, the UK, and Malaysia.

1. Tell us about your life before you joined law school. What made you gravitate towards law?

Tushar: I used to play various sports in my school days. From Cricket to Football, Table Tennis to Volleyball, you name it, and I raise my hand. But professionally, I played Cricket at the junior level. I’m a Millennial kid. For us, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, and M.S. Dhoni, were all our idols. I was fortunate to watch all these legends in my adolescent stage. I cherish all those moments whether the India tour to Pakistan in 2004 and won that series, the Pakistan Tour to India in 2005 when we saw the rise of MS Dhoni, India being knocked out in the ICC World Cup 2007 West Indies, and then India winning the T-20 World in South Africa. Indian Tour to Australia in 2007-08 when India won the Triangular CB Series, and ultimately won the 2011 50 overs World Cup in India. At that time only, I decided that I would work in the sports industry either as a sportsperson or in any other form of job to contribute towards the sports.

2. What was life in law school like? Is there anything specific you remember?

Tushar: In 2014, I completed my 12th Standard. I took a break for a year to prepare for the CLAT, AILET, and other competitive exams. In 2015, I got admitted to the Symbiosis Law School, in Pune. In the first two years, I did struggle in the Law School as my approach was not working. In the third year of law school, I changed my approach to studies as the subjects were more towards corporate and commercial transactions. I would take this opportunity to thank my friends, Yash Triloki, Jaskeerat Singh Johar, Namit Asthana, Bhaskar Tripathi, Shubham Prakash, Madhavi Tewatia, Anahita Sharan, and Samiksha Gupta, all these people stood with me when I needed them most. Without them, it would have been utmost difficult to complete my law school journey. If I look back, I’m blessed that these bunch of people are still in touch with me and we all cherish our memories of our law school days.

3. You have various publications on sports law to your credit. Kindly share your experience with young readers and shed light on the mindset required for regular publications.

Tushar: In sports, every day a new thing happens in the industry. You have to choose a topic which will make a deep impact. The publication should not be restricted to the people who are working in the legal industry, but to the people who only understand the layman’s terms. That is your target audience and your potential clients. So, I always emphasize writing for a larger audience in the sports industry. The research paper or article should be holistic which includes the broader aspect of international laws, and further, it can be narrowed down to the domestic laws.

4. What was the idea and journey behind being the founder of Sports Law Sage?

Tushar: It was started as a side project during my LLM days. I was lucky to invite the first guest, Dan Lust, who is one of the top-rated lawyers in the State of New York. Then people got in touch with me and recommended more people who are working in the sporting industry. And now, the Sports Law Sage Podcast has been listened to in more than 20 countries across the globe in the last two seasons.

5 Could you explain to our readers the interrelation between Entertainment, Intellectual Property and Sports law?

Tushar: Well, Sports Law is the amalgamation of different laws which are present in domestic law and international law. Entertainment is somehow similar to Sports Law. Both of them consist of the importance of protecting the IP Rights. In Sports, it involves numerous parties such as broadcasters, players, brands, commentator’s voices, live audiences in the stadium, and many more. All are parties important in a transaction. Even, if a ticket is sold by the respective team, the viewers in the live audience agree to use their image in case a camera is focused on them. We already saw how in IPL it becomes a viral game.

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In Entertainment also, many parties are involved in making a show such as the broadcasters, the actors, the producer, the director, VFX team, the costume designer, and many more. And protection of IP Rights becomes important in case a show gets good ratings, or the viewership increases every week.

IPR has become relevant and most important for the Sports and Entertainment Sector.

6. You pursued an LL.M. from London University in entertainment, intellectual property and sports law. What were the challenges while studying in a foreign university and what value did you derive?

Tushar: The challenge is to adapt their teaching method. I was lucky as I graduated from the Symbiosis Law School, Pune, both of the academic institutes have somewhat similar teaching methods. However, the most important thing which helps you when you pursue your postgraduate programme from a foreign university is to get accessibility to your batchmates who are working in their respective country.

There is a time when my classmate needs a lawyer from a particular country and I have the accessibility through personal connection. This helps you not only work with the foreign lawyer but also learn some new skills which can help you implement in your practice. During my time, once I completed my LLM, I worked with a Legal Aid CIC based in London which provides legal assistance to people who can not afford quality lawyers. These experiences help you to get a different approach towards a situation where you have to provide quality legal service without any legal fees or pro-bono services to the client.

7. Which new areas can one expect to explore in sports law, apart from player contracts, anti-doping or sponsorship-related work? Is sports law currently a growing niche?

Tushar: The new upcoming sports which will be featured in the Paris Olympics like Breaking (Break Dance), Surfing, Tags, and Wall Climbing. Do watch out for these sports as they have the potential to work with new clients who may need our help. The practice of Sports Arbitration in India will grow as now most disputes can be resolved through arbitration proceedings. But, at the global level, the new way of commercial rights deals happening in football will change the broadcasting deals which earlier used to happen in the package deal. Further, the Athlete’s image rights will also evolve after the AI and Deepfake issue which can hamper the goodwill for an Athlete.

Well, sports law is a niche area to practice. Most of the time you’ll also be working with other clients who may not be associated with the sports or gaming industry. You have to make sure you are at least making minimum means of livelihood, which can fulfil your basic needs.

However, I took that risk for working with the clients specifically with the sports and gaming industry. I’ll not recommend to anyone to take such a gamble.

8. A lot of sports leagues especially in smaller sports are mushrooming in India at the moment. What legal challenges do they face and how viable are these leagues in the long run?

Tushar: Well, to be honest, the difficult part of a sports league is the issue of sustainability. We recently saw a football club in the Indian Super League can not pay the outstanding salaries of their players and staff. The issue with the ISL is the broadcasting deal. Earlier, Star Sports used to telecast as they were Founding Members of the ISL. Last year only, the FSDL [owned by Reliance Industries Ltd.] signed a broadcasting deal with Viacom18 which is also a RIL-owned media company at the base price of INR 550 crore. ISL struggle to attract the major sponsors.

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Further, the production value is also important. Let’s take an example of the quality of the commentator. If you watch the Hindi Commentary of the last year’s Cricket World Cup, it was bizarre. And if we compare it with the Big Bash T-20 League in Australia, it’s a vast difference. So, the promotors of the league should focus on the quality of their product and the marketability of their product. If you have both of these things, the sponsors will surely get on board or major investors get involved to make the product better.

9. What challenges do you think intellectual property will cater to be advancement of and democratization of AI?

Tushar: The protection of Image Rights will evolve after we see how face-swapping through AI has become almost impossible to detect. I hope the government introduce the Protection of Image Rights Rules which can help not only a well-known public figure get protection but also for the image rights of a reasonable person to be protected by law.

10. How was the journey behind founding Katheria Law Offices? Tell us about the kind of work profile you handle every day.

Tushar: Before I became a lawyer, I played Cricket at the Club level during my U-17 days. I also had an experience as an E-Sports athlete as I played the PUBG Mobile Club Open in 2020. All these experiences do help to work the sports clients, as you already know the mentality of how athletes react and how sports organizations react.

Till now, I have an experience of 3 years, working with clients based in the US, the UK, Australia, India, and Malaysia. I check that in India, there are a handful of lawyers who are working in the sports industry. Few lawyers understand what sports clients want. Therefore, I saw the opportunity to work with such clients, globally who can provide quality legal service in an altruistic manner. For me, at this stage, the relationship with the client is important. They are your advertiser.

The best part of being a Sports Lawyer is every day a new thing happens. Every day a new issue arises and it’s up to resolve such issues. My days at my firm start with scrolling news in the morning for about 15 minutes. Then I schedule my daily tasks based on priority and then meetings with the clients. Most of my work involves foreign clients, so I have to strategies accordingly.

11. Many of our readers would be interested in having a career in Sports law and representing celebrity sport stars. What would be your advice to them?

Tushar: Well, to be honest, it’s only 9% of people who work with the high-valued clients. Roshan Gopalakrishna said one thing in my podcast, which I think is true, “…if anyone wanted to work in the sports industry, you have to be a good transactional lawyer.” You have to understand the flow of money. For me, I’m working with young clients, like start-ups in the sports & gaming industry, E-Sports athletes, investors, and some transfer deals with a football agent.

The only advice I will give is to try everything during your internship or vacation scheme days. When I was in my law school days, I interned in the District Court, an NGO, PSU, and Law Firms from boutique to full-service law firms. All these experiences help me to stand out from the other people.

12. What are your plans going forward?

Tushar: My next plan is to grow my firm in the next five years, at the global level. We are planning to make a SoP by adopting the UK Training Contract system with an Indian Model for a law firm. We will start hiring after 2025. A whole new internship system will be implemented in our firm.

My personal goal is to qualify as a Solicitor in England and Wales, and further work directly with clients based in the UK. Who knows, we may open our office in the City of London.


 

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