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Looking Out for the Next Big Thing

As President of the New England Revolution, Brian Bilello could sit back and reap the rewards as Major League Soccer (MLS) continues to surge in attendance, television ratings, merchandise sales, and popularity with young viewers. But as the keynote speaker at BC Law’s third annual Sports and Entertainment Law Symposium February 15, Bilello made it clear that nobody in the industry can afford to take a break.

“Do you know what the most popular sports in America in the 1950s were?” Bilello asked. “Boxing, horse racing, and baseball. What we watch is going to change. My role at the Revolution, and from a career perspective, is to know what the next thing is.”

Bilello and The Kraft Group (which owns the Revolution, the New England Patriots, Patriot Place, and Gillette Stadium) believe that the “next thing” is eSports, and they’re investing heavily in the growing market. The Kraft Group now employs professional gamers as members of Boston Uprising, the region’s “home team” in a global league playing the online game “Overwatch.”

Noting the exponential growth in eSports gameplay, viewership, and commercialization, Bilello highlighted the Overwatch League’s vision to develop a “hybrid eSports concept with local teams emulating the traditional sports model.” That includes marketable home uniforms, global tournaments, more partnerships with existing leagues and athletes, and development of governing bodies to oversee growth and contracts.

“I’d be a fool to believe this isn’t going to impact MLS,” Bilello said. “eSports are biting into every other sports and entertainment property.”

Bilello’s message was perfectly suited to the symposium’s theme, “Exploring the Intersection of Innovation, Sports, and the Law.” Co-hosted by BC Law’s Sports and Entertainment Law Society and the Program on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (PIE), the symposium also presented three panels on the changing legal nature of sports and entertainment.

Professor Daniel Lyons moderated a discussion among Professor Joseph Lieu, DraftKings attorney Sean Hickey ’14, and ESPN attorney Amy Klein about the future of live sports distribution as consumers move away from traditional cable models.

New Balance Development Group’s Keith Craig, Fenway Sports Group’s David Friedman, Goodwin’s Katherine Murphy, and the Boston Celtics’ James Parker spoke about the commercialization of sports venues and government relations, focusing on New Balance’s Boston Landing development project and continuing improvements to Fenway Park.

Finally, the Federal Trade Commission’s Mark Eichorn, Ropes & Gray’s Joshua Jackson, and Garmin’s Josh Maxfield addressed growing concerns about data privacy and protection associated with wearable technology.

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