Paul Loving has been a Portlander for 25 years, but lately he's become known as the guy who worked the Beyoncé deal with Adidas.
Queen B ditched Topshop and now her activewear brand, Ivy Park, and a new line of sneakers, will be made by Adidas. It's similar to the deal with Kanye West which made puffed up Yeezy sneakers the walk of the town and such big earners. Now at Holland & Knight, Loving's resume is long with notable name drops such as Kris Bryant, Roger Clemens, Mark Gonzalez, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steven Gerrard, Candace Parker, James Harden, and Damian Lillard, as well as outliers such as Noel Gallagher, Zaha Hadid, Mariana Abramovic.
A former special counsel for Adidas, he was also an assistant general counsel at Nike, and was judicial clerk for the Oregon Supreme Court. He is married to Jennifer Williamson, the majority leader in the Oregon House. High profile opioid case attorney Matt Donohue recruited Paul Loving to Holland & Knight in June 2018.
Loving sat down with the Business Tribune and talked about what entertainment lawyers do, his negotiating style, and the power of branding in a social world.
BUSINESS TRIBUNE: You've recently become known as the guy who did the Beyoncé deal. What did you do?
PAUL LOVING: My role in that was helping to negotiate the deal, and then draft the agreement between Adidas and Beyoncé. I worked with the head of entertainment at Adidas, Jon Wexler, who's here in Portland. On the other side was CAA (Creative Artists Agency), Latham & Watkins, and another entertainment law firm. It was a process of sitting down negotiating points, coming up with deal terms. Kasper Rørsted, the global CEO of Adidas, just referred to Beyoncé as part of the Dream Team. So I'm lucky that I'm the lawyer that got to do the deal for the Dream Team.
BT: And the Adidas Dream Team is?
PL: Kanye, Beyoncé, Pharrell: those are great iconic names and all deals that I got to negotiate. I work on a regular basis monitoring the relationship. In terms of who's sitting in the room, who's making calls on deal points, who's doing the negotiations, that's me. When the (Adidas) Entertainment Group started, it was primarily to give out product, product seeding. For example, Madonna did the Super Bowl halftime show decked out in Adidas by Jeremy Scott. That was product that was just given to her, she was not paid to wear it.
BT: How complicated was it making that ad for the 2018 World Cup with Pharrell, Messi, Beckham, Pogba and dozens of others?
PL: I primarily do three areas of work for Adidas: sports, entertainment, and advertising. So, I was a production lawyer in connection with that ad. Those were all folks that have longer term deals that either include licensed product or a collaboration. The real wrangling there is on the business side, it's getting people to be at the spot and scheduling. Because you've got so many different people and you're trying to shoot in different geographic locations. On the legal side, all of that's already built into the deals. You've got a set number of personal appearances and a set number of production appearances. And that's pretty common. It's called interest and availability. You reach out to the talent rep and you say, 'Hey, look, we're looking to do a production shoot. Are you available to do it on this date?' And then you go through the scheduling. But my job as a lawyer is done on the front end, making sure that those rights are built in in the beginning. It's also about being able to take whatever content is generated out of those shoot days, and to be able to use it in as many media channels as possible on social, on TV, it could be in cinema. I wouldn't say it's complicated, I would just say there's a lot of moving pieces."
BT: Is technology making mega ads, like the ESPN one for the 2019 Super Bowl with former players, more possible?
PL: If you look at training schedules of athletes, it requires a lot of coordination, to set up a shoot in season with an athlete, because you've got to be respectful of their commitment to the team, which comes first. And typically, most brands, whether it's Adidas, Nike, Puma, Under Armour, they're all trying to walk that line of being able to get the content they want, but at the same time, not interfering with the athlete's performance. Because the reason brands partner with those athletes, they want the on-court, on-pitch, on-field authentication of the product. You want to see the athlete wearing your product. That drives consumer demand. The ability to then be able to shoot people on a green screen and stitch stuff together, helps tremendously, because it allows you to respect that scheduling issue.
Oftentimes, I'll go and I'll sit on the production shoots. If issues come up it's an issue about a clearance. So, let's say that an athlete shows up with a Rolex watch. Do we need permission to be able to show the Rolex watch? Does the brand want to have a Rolex watch in its ad? Oftentimes, extras will show up on set with logos on their shirt. So, it's making sure that no one's wearing a UCLA t-shirt where you'd have to then go out and get some consent from UCLA. So, my role on set is to try to minimize post production cost of editing.
BT: You've worked with seasoned professionals and 20-year-old skateboarders and ball players. Can you asses their legal needs at first look?
PL: When I look at my job, as a lawyer, I primarily do two things. I acquire rights for companies to exercise, and I build in downside protection if things go bad. And on that second part, the downside protection, when you've got someone who is a veteran you know what you're getting into when you're doing the deal. Someone who's younger, the 20-year-old, you might not have that same track record, but we were all 20 and I can imagine some of the silly things I did when I was young. When you're acquiring the rights, whether it's a veteran, or whether it's the 20-year-old, you still want that same package of rights. Because the company is going to want to take the image or the name, the likeness, voice, etc. and use those in a way to drive product sales and drive the brand. So those things aren't going to change. The 20-year-old you want to use on social now you're going to target different demographics. Almost all endorsement deals contain what's called a morals clause. It is a provision that governs what happens when you violate social norms, or when you commit crime, or you say really stupid things. And oftentimes, those are some of the most highly negotiated provisions in contracts, because the agents on the other side recognize that an artist or an athlete or entertainer might slip up and do something that the brand would view as damaging or disastrous to the brand. If you look at the big examples, Tiger (Woods), Lance Armstrong, those were ones where the provisions that the different brands use to get out of those deals. Those were morals clauses.
BT: But some brands stuck with Tiger?
PL: One brand, one, Nike. And he's made his resurrection for them. Look at athletes and entertainers; (brands) want people that are successful. When I'm drafting agreements and looking for that protection, sometimes there are provisions that say, you've got bonuses (for performance). Let's say you're a baseball player, for hitting so many home runs, you can potentially earn a bonus. My guess is in Tiger's deal there is some bonus for him winning a major. So traditionally, sports marketing deals are structured with base compensation. A product commitment to wear will give you product to just wear and use with your family, and then bonuses if they hit certain achievements: rushing yards or passing yards in football. For a European footballer it's did you play for the national team? Did you win Champions League? Sorry, Barca!
[On May 7, 2019, Messi's team Barcelona famously missed out on playing this this season's European Champions League Final when they let a 3-0 lead slip to Liverpool, who won 4-3.]
BT: How do you watch games like that, and Tottenham versus Ajax (another dramatic semi-final) when you have competing brands, athletes and teams all over the place? (Liverpool are sponsored by New Balance, Tottenham is Nike, Ajax is Adidas.)
PL: I cheer for teams primarily based on brand affiliation. I'm just being completely honest. Messi is a huge, iconic Adidas athlete. So, I wanted him to do well. I had a dentist appointment that I had to go to, so I missed the fourth goal. I was at the Mexican restaurant across from here, Me Miro Mole. I thought this wasn't supposed to happen. Even thinking back to the World Cup when it was Germany versus Argentina. I was rooting for Argentina. I mean, as much as you know, we're a German company. I still was pulling for Messi (and Argentina) just because I think he's absolutely amazing.
BT: The European Champions League final in June is Liverpool versus Tottenham, New Balance versus Nike.
PL: I'll watch. This is true of most people that work for sports brands, and lifestyle brands. I love sports. And so, I will watch that, though neither of the teams are (contracted with Adidas). It's just to see the spectacle of sport.
BT: You've come up in this age where celebrity endorsements have become like, super powerful. And then we've also seen the rise of social media, which has made brands more influential, but also, brands more brittle: one mistake and everyone shuts down. How do you see that going in the next 10 years?
PL: The biggest change with social media on the sports, entertainment and athlete endorser side is, there used to be a distinction between private conduct and public conduct. And oftentimes, private conduct could be egregious, it could be in violation of the agreement, but no one would ever know. It's just today there's always someone with a camera at a party, there's always someone who sees you walking through an airport. If you're an athlete, or entertainer there, there's paparazzi that stakeout various places. It gives the brand two things: It gives them greater insight into who their partners are, but at the same time, it also gives the brand better access to those consumers and those fans because, you know, everyone's following on Instagram or Twitter. It can be incredibly compelling and powerful. But it can also be very damaging, because the moment the brand has a misstep, or an ambassador of the brand has a misstep, everyone knows about it.
BT: With Adidas is your role as a lawyer to come up with the strategy? Or is that the head of entertainment?
PL: That's the head of entertainment. The entertainment and sports marketing folks do three things. They identify talent, they sign talent, they service them. The messaging and all the creation of content, that's all handled by the marketing and communications team. A totally separate group. They work together, and I interact with them both, but in different roles. For example, Jon Wexler would sign Kanye or Beyoncé and his group are managing that relationship. But there's someone else who's actually creating the products and creating stories behind the products, in a different group and I'm in the middle.
A really great thing about being a lawyer is you get to be exposed to all different types. And it's why I have this kind of generalist knowledge about the operations of the company and different groups. Let's take a talent, Damian Lillard. He's an Adidas endorser so there's someone from sports marketing that works with him, and I work with the sports marketing person. There's someone from our digital and social group who is creating content, and I may be working with them to let me review the content to see that it's okay to post. There's someone from the product creation side, where I might touch it a little bit, but another lawyer in the office might have an interaction to say, okay, we need to, are we going to register any rights around this shoe? Are we going to, you know, what protections? I get visibility into a lot of what's going on and it allows me to issue spot and say, Hey, there could be a potential issue here with this.
Part of what I love, and actually why I came here, it's a global firm, 25 offices here in the US and offices in London, Bogota, Mexico City. And all those things do feed into me as a lawyer for that global group to be able to respond and answer questions. I don't see everything and I want to make sure not to overstate my worth and value. I'm not the only one doing this, but I'm an integral part of that of that process.
I was born in Detroit, I still have family back in Detroit but I didn't grow up a Lions fan. I liked the Tigers a little bit. I grew up in LA and went to UCLA. The Lakers was kind of the dream, you know, Magic, and it's tough not to love that team. I liked the Pistons. I like the bad boys. But I just love sports. And to be a to be a good sports and entertainment lawyer, you need to understand those general areas. Because if you don't, you don't have context for anything. I was a history major, it's important to have some historical context and understanding.
BT: How do you feel coming from Detroit about how new albums drop out of nowhere, and people can have millions of streams but not be very well paid for them?
PL: I was just recently at a festival in Virginia Beach called Something in the Water. They did some panels, and one was on the record industry and publishing and kind of those sort of rights in and that was one of the questions was I'm a new artist, how do I actually make money?
It's the democratization, everyone has access to be able to distribute their music and put their music out. I still think there are some disadvantages if you're small artists, you need someone to drive your publishing rights, you need someone to be out there pushing your music,
people on the A&R side who are finding the next talent right on online. I'm not a musician, myself but the impression I get is that there's still that finite world, there's only so many dollars to go around.
Look at Netflix, and Amazon, they're actually production studios, competing now with large movie studios to try to push content out there. There's so much out there. It's tough to sift through everything. But you know, there are people out there sifting through finding those jewels.
BT: In your kind of world in Portland, what's your range of influence? For instance, if you wanted to get something done at City Hall or something, do you have someone you could call?
PL: So, for the first time (recently), I was stopped on the street in Portland, by a kid who saw my shoes, and he said, 'I follow you on Instagram.' First time, wow. I was like. Okay. All right. Jon Wexler, the guy I mentioned before, he gets stopped all the time, he's very big in that sneaker industry. So, can I call the governor by name and does the governor recognize me? Yes. If I walk into a room with Pharrell or Snoop or Kanye, do they recognize me? Yes. I know folks on the political side, my wife is a politician. She and I worked together at Davis Wright Tremaine. So even before that, I knew folks. I think it's very easy to get involved in the community here in Portland, and in Oregon, because I think it's small. And, you know, the minority community here is even smaller.
BT: In 25 years in Portland what's kept you from like burning bridges?
PL: I do like to be happy! With a name like Loving, it's very tough to be rude and obnoxious. My biggest skill set is being a trusted advisor. And having those relationship skills. My wife jokes, she calls me the mayor of Northwest Portland. I'm friendly, I'll talk to people. I think that's part of what's made me successful in terms of building a client base.
BT: What's the hardest thing you have to do as a lawyer?
PL: I do love negotiating. And it's something that I think I do really, really well, it's probably my strength and why I think, you know, brands like Adidas, use me on those big deals. The thing I hate the most are overly technical lawyers who waste their client's time and money. It just infuriates me, when people over lawyer things. I wish that every lawyer at an outside firm could have some experience working in house and seeing what it's like to be closer to the business. There are some lawyers who just they don't get it, they don't understand that the business is really driving the process and, and to understand the subtleties of the business issues around the contract or negotiation They just see it solely through the lens of the lawyers. And I've had other people say, Well, I am a lawyer. I'm like, Well, yeah, but you need to show a little bit more depth and complexity in your legal analysis, not simply being a scrivener. Right? It drives me crazy.
BT: In negotiation what's your strategy?
PL: I'm actually writing a book right now on negotiation, there's no title yet. It's a business book.
I would say candor and transparency. I'm a big believer in and I say this line over and over, when I can make a change, I'll make a change. And when I can't, I'm going to tell you. Just make concessions and move on.
BT: And what about brinkmanship? We have brinkmanship being modeled on a daily basis.
PL: There are different situations that call for different tools. Different people respond differently to different styles. You might be aggressive and abrasive with someone from the east coast, right? Because that's kind of what they expect. And if they see any weakness, they're going to think, Oh, I can continue to run over you. Another way, you might have more camaraderie or collegiality, especially with someone that you've done a deal with time to time again. So, for example, you've got to adjust your style, slightly to whoever's on the other side.
The English lawyers I think are the toughest, I think tougher than a New York lawyer. The English lawyer is very tough but says it so nicely. They're certain in the position and their advocacy is really good. My favorite are the Japanese lawyers. I really love working with them because everything is a subtlety. They have a great line: 'That would be very difficult for us,' which means No. When I've done work over in Japan, the sessions are typically very long, and you've got the translation time in between, and the subtleties. It's really fun and very challenging.
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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