Ashwin Krishnan – Miami Marlins
In-house sports law, now that’s a tough field for anyone to make the cut. There are so few positions to begin with, and so many young lawyers looking to go that route.
And the few who get there? They’ve usually prepared early, aggressively pursuing any “in” during law school or even undergrad, but still having to hone their skills in private practice before an opportunity arises. Then it can be an eye-opener when most of the to-do list is decidedly non-glamourous.
“Funny thing about sports law,” says Ashwin Krishnan, who defied the odds by securing an enviable position right out of Harvard Law School. “The joke is I basically majored in sports law only to find there really isn’t any sports law per se.”
Only, as the 37-year-old vice president and general counsel of the Miami Marlins explains, there is construction law as it applies to sports. And antitrust law, labor law, zoning law, contract law, employment law, tax law—as it too applies to sports which, after all, are big, even multinational, businesses.
A member of the Marlins legal department since September 2010 who was promoted to his present capacity in late 2017 when the National League team changed ownership, Krishnan has dealt with all kinds of the legal process as it applies to a baseball franchise. Plenty of non-legal matters too, what with community engagement a responsibility Krishnan accepts with enthusiasm.
“I always like to step outside my lawyer’s shoes,” he tells Vanguard in February.
Making his pitch
He’s making the most of that opportunity, with Krishnan also overseeing public affairs as the team deepen engagement with local elected officials alongside the Miami Marlins Foundation furthering its impact in South Florida.
As someone who enjoys mingling with fans, team sponsors and public officials, Krishnan welcomes their input while proffering the team’s own ideas on enhancing the game-day experience with evaluating enhancements to transit, parking and the like.
With COVID-19 hitting the community hard, he had a hand in prepping Marlins Park as a testing and vaccination site. Even pre-pandemic he assisted the Miami Marlins Foundation’s efforts in taking a proactive role in the community and since last year it has expanded its outreach, distributing personal protective equipment and meals to the needy, undertaking social justice initiatives and partnering with nonprofits in the mission.
Such efforts complement other endeavors to make Marlins Park in Little Havana as a destination for fans and business partners.
Corporate support is a must in today’s sports world, and Krishnan hopes to help in expanding the lineup of Pillar Partners that now includes the University of Miami Health System, Ocean Bank and AutoNation.
“Once we have a deal agreed upon, it’s not just a simple transaction,” he says. “We partner to where we invest in them, their brand, their mission, their values, and their people, and they invest in us, our brand, our mission, our values, and our people. It’s a lot more than just stadium signage.”
UHealth, for instance, provides medical care to the players and staff. Ocean Bank assists the team on the financial front. AutoNation leases vehicles to Marlins staff and executives. All are active in the community alongside the Marlins. Krishnan is an integral part of the process to complete these high-level, complicated business transactions, helping the Partnerships and Strategy department get their deals across home plate.
To prep the prospects
Little Havana isn’t the only tract that Krishnan has a hand in helping shape. The Marlins, like other teams, maintain an academy in the Dominican Republic, and are exploring a bigger and better one—a comprehensive center where Latin American prospects can develop not only as players but as young men with English classes among the offerings.
It takes some doing, Krishnan reminds, for teenagers abroad to quickly adjust to baseball life on and off the field. Should they never be offered a Major League contract, the Marlins still want them better prepared to succeed in another endeavor.
“We owe this to the overall development of our [Latin American] players,” says Krishnan, who might have an advantage in empathizing with the “stranger in a strange land” situation.
For he’s the U.S.-born son of a man from India and a woman from Malaysia. While his parents weren’t interested in sports, the boy took a liking to baseball and basketball, using them to connect with American culture while growing up in San Diego.
A better student than athlete, Krishnan graduated Harvard University in 2005 with credentials in political science and government, and two years later enrolled in its law school. As an undergrad junior he interned with the National Basketball Association, doing market research and analysis, and during his second year of law school assisted the then NBA-champion Boston Celtics with sponsorship and vendor agreements.
“Mike Zarren was unique in that he’d give me little crumbs here and there,” a laughing Krishnan says about the Celtics general counsel who also is a Harvard Law grad. “But they added up.”
In 2010 Ashwin came to Miami’s baseball team for what started out as an internship but turned into full-time work as an associate counsel entrusted with, among other projects, fine-tuning the details that would result in the 37,000-seat Marlins Park.
“It’s very rare for something like that to happen,” he says. “But I happened to be in the right place at the right time and the bosses saw I had potential and was eager to learn. Sure, it takes luck, but you’ve got to take advantage when luck shines on you.”
Promoted to senior counsel in late 2015, Krishnan was tasked with preparing the documentation for the team’s sale two years later. When the sale was completed to Private Capital Management co-founder Bruce Sherman and retired New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter, days later Krishnan was upgraded to vice president and general counsel.
And the team’s outlook has been brighter under the new regime, the Marlins breaking a string of losing seasons in COVID-shortened 2020, advancing to the playoffs and beating the Chicago Cubs before losing to the Atlanta Braves.
“I can’t take credit for their success,” Krishnan says with a laugh. But upon further review, maybe he can take some.
For late in the 2019 season, Krishnan did assist the baseball side by immersing in negotiations and structuring an extension for standout shortstop Miguel Rojas, who was the heart and soul of last year’s feel-good story.
“OK, it was particularly gratifying to me to help finalize that deal,” Krishnan says with another laugh. “He was our leader, he got us the playoffs and is a great ambassador for our organization. He’s bilingual, connects to the community and is committed to being a part of what we are building here.”
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