Practice area highlights
Irwin A. Kishner
More than 20 years ago, Irwin Kishner got one heck of a
call to the bigs.
He was a young transactional lawyer working in M&A for
Herrick when the prestigious firm Shea & Gould imploded.
One of its attorneys, Lonn Trost, a corporate lawyer with an
impressive roster of sports clients, including the Baseball
Hall of Fame, the Mets and Yankees, and Lelands Auctions,
landed at Herrick.
The two worked well together, and Trost trusted Kishner
to work some Mets and Yankees business.
Then Trost got his call. “One day Lonn said, ‘You know
what? I got a call from Mr. Steinbrenner, and I’m going to
become the general counsel and the chief operating officer
of the New York Yankees.’”
The Brooklyn-born Kishner became heir apparent for
Trost’s clients, and one of the nation’s most robust sports
law practices was born. During the past two decades, he’s
also served as the Yankees outside counsel.
“It started initially with helping them buy one of their mi-
nor-league teams,” he says of the Yankees work. “Through
the years, it’s crescendoed in being involved with all of the
significant transactions—and sometimes litigations—that
have affected the client. We like to think of ourselves as
business partners in the sense of just being fully available,
all the time. Whenever we can add value, we jump in.”
To the uninitiated, sports law might mean starry eyes
and ticker-tape parades. To Kishner, it’s simply “corporate
law in a very exciting and continually evolving industry.”
That’s where his mergers and acquisitions background
comes into play. “If I’m representing the acquirer of a team,
of an interest or of a subsidiary business, or a seller of any
of those; or if I’m looking to help a client access capital on
the most efficient terms possible, I’ve done that in my M&A
capacities. The M&A attorney is something of a renaissance
lawyer in the sense of the types of industries you work with.
You really need to become an expert across the board to
properly represent your clients.”
These days, those clients include the World Surf League,
the sanctioning body for surfers; the New York Racing As-
sociation, which operates the three largest thoroughbred
horseracing tracks in the state; upstarts like the Champions
Basketball League and the World Freerunning & Parkour
Federation; and various major sports organizations, includ-
ing The Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Sometimes he’s the starting pitcher, sometimes the closer,
occasionally the left-handed relief specialist. “When John
Henry was buying the Florida Marlins, I was called in to help
with the media rights contract,” he says. “When the Cubs were
entering into the radio rights deal, I helped with that.”
Getting to YES
Sports lawyer Irwin Kishner’s highlight reel includes developing the country’s
first regional sports network BY AMY WHITE
He and his team have also done substantial work on
stadiums. “Most significantly, the new Yankee Sta-
dium,” he says, “but we’ve helped with Citi Field and its
structuring, with the Meadowlands and Red Bull Arena.
Those take years. You can’t just plop a stadium in a
very densely populated metropolitan area. You need to
deal with city approvals, you need to deal with federal
approvals, you need to deal with taxing authorities. But
then you’re able to drive by and say, ‘Hey, I had a little
hand in making that happen.’”
If you’re into sports memorabilia, you’d have to envy his
work with Lelands.
“I got to work on extremely sexy matters,” he says.
“We just finished the Jim Brown 1964 championship
ring. Jim Brown—he’s a very colorful character whose
reputation transcends. We’ve dealt with the Wilt Cham-
berlain 100-point basketball, one of the storied items
of basketball. We’ve dealt with Muhammad Ali’s gold
medal, which he allegedly threw into the Ohio River but
was ultimately recovered. And we’ve dealt with Mickey
Mantle and his estate.”
But Kishner knows when it’s time to get serious.
“I absolutely enjoy the ability to attend games and
events with people that I have great, great admiration for,
and, frankly, I have an emotional attachment to the teams
here in New York and elsewhere,” he says. “On the other
hand, this is my job. I’ve got to deliver. If I don’t, there’s
somebody down the street who will. You have to be unflap-
pable. All in, all the time.”
His legal work would fill a highlight reel, but he says
it’s pretty easy to point to his No. 1 web gem: developing,
organizing and structuring the nation’s first RSN—regional
sports network—which he did while wearing his Yankees’
outside counsel cap.
The YES Network owns the exclusive TV rights of the
Yankees, the Brooklyn Nets and Major League Soccer’s
New York City FC. It’s earned 95 Emmy Awards since its
launch in 2002. For this one he threw a complete game:
“From the twinkle in somebody’s eye to inking the final
papers” is how he puts it.
“That RSN model has really taken off,” he adds. “We
were at the forefront of coming up with the way it works,
which has ultimately been replicated. As a result, my firm
represents numerous regional sports networks in their
ownership and day-to-day operations.”
The first step was to theorize what an RSN is. “The
theory of our RSN is you should have 12 months’ program-
ming,” Kishner says. “One of the ways of doing that is you
have a team that plays in the spring, summer, fall; and