Lawyers of the Year 2019: Craig Umbaugh

by Julia Cardi

What ties together the Denver Broncos, Brooklyn Nets and San Francisco Giants, three sports teams in different professional leagues in separate markets? Craig Umbaugh, a Hogan Lovells partner in Denver known as the firm’s man for sports transactions. He chairs the sports and recreational facilities practice group.

Umbaugh has had his hands in some attention-grabbing sports deals involving teams changing hands and venues. In 2019, the firm followed up on a partial sale of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets to Joe Tsai with the sale of the rest of the team’s stake to him, as well as the Barclays Center in a companion transaction. Hogan Lovells represented now-former Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov in the transactions.

Although Tsai now owns 100% of the Nets, Umbaugh said it’s rare for one owner to have a 100% stake in a professional sports team, given their high value. According to a February 2018 report from Forbes, each NBA team is now worth at least $1 billion.

“The leagues always want to have one controlling owner,” which denotes operational control and voting power in league decisions but doesn’t require owning 100% of a team. “What you don’t want to have is a diffused ownership group that can’t make decisions,” Umbaugh said.

Another high-profile deal this year hit right at home. Umbaugh has represented Colorado’s Metropolitan Football Stadium District since its formation in 1997. This year, he helped the district close out a deal to rename the Broncos’ stadium Empower Field at Mile High. The venue was previously Sports Authority Field before the company went bankrupt, and for two years afterward went by Broncos Stadium at Mile High.

Umbaugh said Empower Retirement is a good fit for a naming deal because Empower is a large dealer of retirement plans and IRAs, but it doesn’t necessarily have the name recognition to match. Having its name on the Broncos’ stadium can boost the company’s profile.

To read this and other complete articles featured in the Jan. 6, 2020 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.