Features

Tim Slavin – OneTeam Partners

A powerful figure behind the scenes in huge, but little-known sports biz

In late April, shortly after the Chicago Bears made quarterback Caleb Williams the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, his jersey was available for pre-order on Fanatics.com, the sports world’s largest online licensed sportswear retailer. 

Tim Slavin | Managing Director & Chief Legal Officer | OneTeam Partners

Tim Slavin | Managing Director & Chief Legal Officer | OneTeam Partners

Sure, Bears General Manager Ryan Poles had to make the pick, and the Bears needed some good fortune to “earn” the first selection, but behind the scenes, someone else played a central role in ensuring Williams—and other top draft picks—saw their jerseys for sale online and in stores across the country. 

That deal, and many deals like it, requires many different people, but few more influential than Tim Slavin. He’s the managing director and chief legal officer for OneTeam Partners, the juggernaut sports agency established in December 2019 by the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) and Redbird Capital. 

OneTeam is a company many outside sports might not know about—yet.  Most of its revenue comes from representing professional athletes in “group rights licensing.” This essentially means athletes grant NIL (name, image, likeness) rights through their players’ union to OneTeam, and OneTeam then negotiates deals to give companies the ability to make products that use the player NIL—like jerseys, video games, trading cards, and hundreds of other types of products for fans and collectors.  

Without a company like OneTeam and its union partners, the player NIL rights needed for these products would require individual deals with each player and thousands of contracts, all of which would be too expensive and time-consuming. The framework is designed to be a win for the fans, the companies who make the products, and the players. 

Tim Slavin | Managing Director & Chief Legal Officer | OneTeam Partners

Tim Slavin pictured with Mariano Rivera (Photo by Tito Herrera/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

“We’ve established a unique position in the sports ecosystem, and we use that to help players make the most of the commercial opportunities they have during their time on the field or the court,” Slavin tells Vanguard during an interview in May.  “We’ve grown a lot quickly, and we’re proud of that.  But we think we can do more.” 

Indeed, since before it was founded, OneTeam was always envisioned to be more than just licensing. Union leaders DeMaurice Smith (NFLPA) and Tony Clark (MLBPA) made it clear that the players wanted a flexible business to expand into new growth areas.  Wasting little time, OneTeam has made strategic capital investments across more than a dozen businesses to date. They’ve also acquired several companies, including in flag football and content production, expanded into esports, and now represent nine players’ unions. The result is more diverse revenue sources and increased returns to players. 

The scale of the business is massive. OneTeam’s early productivity resulted in a valuation of the business at nearly $2B in less than three years. “It feels a little crazy sometimes because there’s so much happening on any given day.  There’s no room for complaints, though, because I get to work alongside incredibly talented people, across men’s and women’s sports, doing some pretty fun stuff,” Slavin says. 

Steep Climb 

When OneTeam opened its doors, many people in the sports space and on Wall Street openly wondered if the venture would last. After all, it was the first of its kind anywhere in the world—players’ unions had never come together in this way, and certainly not with this much financial risk attached. 

Tim Slavin | Managing Director & Chief Legal Officer | OneTeam Partners

(L-R) President of MLB Players, Inc. Tim Slavin, Boston Red Sox Principal Owner John W. Henry, Commissioner of MLB Robert D. Manfred Jr., Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, New York Yankees General Partner/Vice Chairperson Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal, and Managing General Partner/Co-Chairperson Hal Steinbrenner seen during the announcement of the 2019 London Series between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox in London (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos)

“There were a lot of eyes on us, and it was hard not to feel the weight of it,” Slavin recalls. “Many of us had been working with, and for players for years, so we felt a lot of loyalty and didn’t want to disappoint them. We put our heads down and put in the hours. After a few hard-fought wins in the early days, we realized we had something that could be a game changer for our players.” 

The company’s success with Slavin in the middle of things makes sense when considering his career accomplishments. He was trained as a corporate lawyer in the high-pressure environment of New York, with stints across Europe and Asia. In 2008, he left the white shoe law firm Simpson Thacher to be the head business lawyer for the MLBPA, widely considered the most powerful union in the world. Within two years, he was promoted to run their entire business. Over the next decade, MLBPA generated hundreds of millions of dollars for its players under Slavin’s leadership, with him earning some recognition along the way—including a spot on the Sports Business Journal’s prestigious “Forty Under 40” list. In 2018, as part of a directive from MLB players to focus on and expand their business, Clark tapped Slavin to be the President of MLB Players Inc., the first-ever for-profit subsidiary of the MLBPA.  Then, when Smith and Clark decided to come together to form OneTeam, Slavin was asked to be the chief architect of the transaction and invited to be a founding executive. 

“I’ve known Tim for years,” says Bobby Bonilla, six-time MLB All-Star, World Series Champion and three-time Silver Slugger Award winner.  “We are lucky to have him on the players’ side.  When he’s representing us, we are confident because he’s smart, always comes prepared, and always thinks about what’s best for the players.  No one works harder than he does.” 

When pressed to talk about this, Slavin deflects.  

“The business we do across the unions and at OneTeam won’t work without a lot of really talented people. We have been able to get things done because we have highly skilled people with different approaches, ideas and perspectives. It’s an impressive group; I often try to emulate my colleagues’ characteristics to improve on my end.” 

Scoring for Athletes 

The world of sports business is fraught with complexities, from navigating the intricacies of intellectual property rights to working through collective bargaining to balancing the diverse interests of players, unions, agents, leagues and business partners. The work is not for the faint of heart. Slavin says pushing through the harder days is easier when he reminds himself why OneTeam does what it does. 

Tim Slavin | Managing Director & Chief Legal Officer | OneTeam Partners

(L-R) Tim Slavin, Dave Winfield, Tanya Winfield, Jean-Philippe Blondet, Rick Helling, Javy Vazquez, and Bobby Bonilla.

“Every player at the highest level of their sport has dedicated their whole life getting there. A lot of them skip opportunities to finish school or learn a trade,” he says. “Most only get a shot to play for a year or two—without those big contracts you read about in the news.”   

Slavin continued, “We represent a lot of players whose careers are short, or their contracts don’t pay much.  I tend to think about them when we get the wins at OneTeam.  All my colleagues do.  For those players, every little bit matters.” 

Having firmly established itself in the pro sports space, OneTeam has expanded to secure opportunities for athletes in college, too.  Most recently, Slavin was instrumental in helping EA Sports bring back its popular college football video game series. The game, scheduled to be released in July, will feature real players’ names and likenesses for the first time. More than 10,000 players from across college football opted into the agreement, and each will receive compensation. 

“The group rights business is evolving in the college space, and I imagine things will be very different a few years from today. For now, we are in a good spot because we have an existing framework with a proven model and a long track record of working for athletes,” Slavin says. “We think there’s good reason to believe we can support amateur athletes for a long time.” 

The Job He Wanted 

Slavin’s father was a lawyer, too. Slavin recalls that his work was impactful because he protected people who thought the cards were stacked against them.   

Tim Slavin | Managing Director & Chief Legal Officer | OneTeam Partners

Tim Slavin pictured with Justice Anthony Kennedy and his wife at an event inside the supreme court

“To me, there was virtue in that.  He was proud of what he did. I knew a long time ago I wanted a job like that—where I positively impacted people. At the time, I didn’t know if I could find that by being a lawyer or doing something different,” Slavin recalls.  

Despite the youthful uncertainty, Slavin ultimately followed in his father’s footsteps and became an attorney. He went to college at William & Mary and then earned a law degree from Georgetown. After a clerkship at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., he spent nearly eight years in private practice for large law firms. 

“Working for pro athletes has been a lot of fun,” Slavin says with a smile. “Getting to know these impressive people and having an insider’s view of the sports world has been an unreal experience.”   

But he says the best part of his job isn’t the access.  

“It’s the satisfaction that comes from pushing for all players, especially those whose names many people don’t know. If I can play a small role in protecting a player or putting them in a better spot, that’s a good day,” he says.  

Published on: July 1, 2024

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