Opening Statements

The Umpire

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For the love of the game or the pursuit of some prize money, about 30 million people actively play in fantasy sports leagues across the United States and Canada. Competitors build rosters of professional sports athletes and set lineups in pursuit of statistical achievement. Nothing rankles fantasy enthusiasts more than perceived unfairness, such as a lopsided player trade between two competitors that tips a league’s balance.

That’s where Marc Edelman comes in.

As the founder of SportsJudge, Edelman arbitrates the resolution of practically any dispute—like the guy who trades superstar Albert Pujols for a case of beer, the league commissioner who uses his powers to retroactively credit his team with an extra home run, or the participants pushing the boundaries of the rule book by fielding a team composed of middle relievers.

“A good competition has rules,” Edelman says. “Every one is always looking to exploit them to full advantage, and that inevitably leads to animosity.”

Edelman first began resolving fantasy disputes for friends in 2001 while a first-year at the University of Michigan Law School. A few years later he was working as an 80-hour-per-week associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom but still found time to put fantasy league controversies to rest.

By the time he joined Dewey & LeBoeuf in 2006, Edelman’s prestige in fantasy sports circles had grown. Strangers came knocking, looking for help from the “sports judge.”

Initially, Edelman believed these disputes would make a good law review article. Later, he contemplated joining forces with a major provider of fantasy sports leagues such as ESPN. But eventually, in 2007, he realized that SportsJudge could be a viable business, buttressing the income he received as a visiting sports law professor at various universities.

SportsJudge has eight people on staff to help resolve fantasy sports disputes, including four practicing attorneys, three law clerks and a former Illinois magistrate judge. The company offers a variety of services, such as resolving conflicts, rewriting a fantasy league’s constitution, and avoiding potential problems down the road. Fees range from $15 for a single dispute resolution to $100 for a season package. Edelman says they’ve handled thousands of disputes so far.

Edelman’s website showcases opinions he’s written for some of the more intriguing disputes he’s helped settle. The opinions, befitting any district court ruling, rely on both key principles of contract law as well as the fantasy sports law precedent Edelman has created over the years.

Edelman estimates that more than half the disputes he’s now handling emanate from leagues made up of lawyers, often at big firms.

“When I first started doing this, only a few IT people would use it,” he says. “Then some investment bankers decided to use the forum, but lawyers wouldn’t talk to us. They believed they were skilled enough to think about every contingency to avoid problems. They were wrong. Now, lawyers are our No. 1 client. They love to argue their position and have an outside judge rule on the merits.”

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