Shot Callers: Kari Cohen, General Counsel, New York Red Bulls

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While Kari Cohen only joined the New York Red Bulls in January as the club’s new general counsel, the accomplished sports executive sees a bright future ahead for soccer in the U.S.

But while she is new to the sport, Cohen is not new to the field of sports law, most recently serving as the deputy general counsel at BSE Global.

Cohen sat down with Front Office Sports Editor Ian Thomas to chat about what drew her to this role and MLS, what exactly a general counsel does at a pro sports team, and the opportunity around sports betting – especially for a club that plays its home games in New Jersey, where it is legal.

Edited highlights appear below:

On the opportunity for MLS and the Red Bulls (0:20):

I would start out by saying that they’re really expanding and not only are they expanding, they’re strategically expanding. By 2022, they’re going to have 30 teams. They’re really going to be competing with the other major leagues. And soccer really excites me because it’s universal – we even call it, you know, a language that everyone can speak. You take somebody from New York, you take somebody from France, you put a soccer ball between them, they know what it’s all about. And I think that joining MLS and the Red Bulls, it’s going to be exciting to see all these fans coming together again from different cultures, races, ethnicities, genders, and they all have something in common. And that’s their love for the sport.

On the role of deputy counsel at a sports team (3:52):

There is no typical day. Right now with BSE global. I’m the deputy general counsel, so it’s, it’s a similar role except it would be, of course, more of a leadership position with the Red Bulls. And no day is like a former one. We call all of our colleagues clients. So there are all of our internal clients and we’re representing each one of them with a different matter. So we represent our sponsorship team, our communications team, our ticketing team, our suites team, marketing. So we have to be very well versed in all aspects of the business. It’s also very important for a general counsel to understand from the outset rather than just be a scribe of a deal and drafting it – they need to be part of the strategic vision.

They really need to be a business partner and help their internal clients achieve success, or whatever their goals may be. And look, any negotiation, there’s, there’s not a winner and a loser, which is also why I really liked the transactional aspect of the job. Of course, in any negotiation, you’re going to lose a couple of points and you’re going to win a couple of points. But at the end of the day, it’s a marriage. And you’re going to hopefully be in the relationship for quite some time rather than in litigation where there are a clear winner and a loser. So I think that’s a really exciting aspect of the job. I would say as a general counsel, you’re not a specialist. That’s why you’re a generalist. You sort of have to be a Jack of all trades. And that’s really attractive to me because I can learn a lot of different areas of the law, and when I know something, I don’t know, I at least know that I don’t know it and who to go to, to ask the questions.

On sports betting (06:04):
New Jersey really led the charge on sports betting, which is admirable. And something that also drew me to the Red Bulls organization. I think that there’s a lot of opportunity with sports betting. New York, unfortunately, is not quite there yet, but I think they’ll see soon enough that they’re losing, frankly, a lot of revenue to New Jersey because it’s much easier for New York residents to just go across the bridge or go through the tunnel rather than go upstate to one of the four licensed casinos in order to place a sports bet. I think that the leagues have done a really nice job of allowing teams to move forward with sports betting partnerships. And I think that for just a run of the mill fan who may be excited about sports but is not quite an avid fan, sports betting is going to help put more butts in the seats, and frankly more eyes on the TV because fans now have really something invested in the particular game in the particular play.