Catherine Lindsey: The Business of Sports

Catherine Lindsey, JD ’89, and her husband enjoy a moment with former New York Yankee Derek Jeter.

Catherine Lindsey, JD ’89, didn’t follow football or basketball on television. She’d never played team sports. But she was interested in the business of sports and how the rights to sporting events were acquired. So she crammed for the job interview, impressing the entertainment industry officials in the room with her knowledge of the sports world.

That is, until they came to the final question: What’s the difference between hurling and curling?

“I knew just a little about curling—the stone and the ice—but I didn’t know anything about hurling, which is an old form of lacrosse,” Ms. Lindsey says. 

She didn’t get the job, although she attributes that more to her lack of experience in trademark work, a key component of the position. Still, Ms. Lindsey was tenacious, and she continued to knock on doors, track the industry, and tap the GW Law alumni network for advice and leads. Today she is general counsel and executive vice president for business affairs at CBS Sports Network.

Mindful of how alumni kept their doors open for her, Ms. Lindsey says GW Law students always get an interview at her office. “If my staff gets a résumé from GW, we definitely give that person a call because we know they are smart students who always do a great job,” she says. “Last year we had an intern from GW Law.”

Ms. Lindsey remains engaged with the law school in other ways. She was involved with the 1989 reunion committee and is active with the New York City alumni base. She also keeps in touch with her GW Law roommates, Diane Hull Hertz, JD ’89, and Candida Perotti Wolff, JD ’89.

“It’s impressive,” she says. “Everyone in my class is so successful.”

While she was in high school, a job at Burger King in suburban Philadelphia took her to Washington, D.C. “Burger King was selected to provide food for the White House’s July 4 picnic, and I was one of the employees from across the country who was chosen to work at the event,” she says. “We wore these old-fashioned uniforms—the theme was the 1800s—and served people on the White House lawn.”

She loved D.C., and after she earned a degree in finance from Pennsylvania State University, she applied to law school in the nation’s capital with an eye on doing trial work—until a summer job ignited a new interest. 

“I did half the summer in Philly with a law firm and half in Los Angeles with an entertainment law firm,” Ms. Lindsey explains. “We went to the Johnny Carson show, we went to a partner’s home in Malibu, and I attended a deposition of Jeopardy’s Alex Trebec.

“It was all very exciting, and it made me appreciate what was going on in the entertainment field,” she says. 

After graduation, she found herself back in Philadelphia. She spent three years as a corporate associate at Wolf, Block, Schorr and Solis-Cohen and then as a litigator at Cozen O’Connor in Philadelphia. 

“I realized that I wasn’t happy being a litigator, and I wanted to get back into entertainment,” Ms. Lindsey explains. “So I started going to seminars and networking.” She says GW Law alumni were instrumental in giving her job leads and opening doors. In one instance, GW led her to the general counsel at ESPN. Although she wasn’t hired, those ESPN contacts kept in touch and provided job leads in the sports industry.

“In effect, I got my job through the alumni directory,” she says. 

Ms. Lindsey ended up at IMG/TWI, the world’s largest sports and entertainment agency and independent television producer. During her eight years with the company, she rose to the position of vice president and negotiated talent, licensing, sponsorship, and endorsement deals. Muhammad Ali was one of her accounts.

When a friend from Penn State decided to launch a TV network devoted to college sports, he persuaded Ms. Lindsey to join his team. In 2006 CBS bought the company, and today Ms. Lindsey manages CBS Sports Network’s Business Affairs and Legal department. She and her staff negotiate and draft the network’s agreements with conferences, universities, and other partners, its affiliate sales agreements, its syndication agreements, and its talent and sponsorship agreements.   

“I’m involved in many of our new programs, in the contracts and in negotiating the on-air talent agreements,” she explains, “as well as the agreements we negotiate to acquire rights to various collegiate games.”

Ms. Lindsey says her down time is spent with her 6-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, and her husband, an attorney who also works in the sports entertainment industry. 

“He’s at a sports agency and negotiates contracts for athletes, coaches, and on-air talent, so he understands what I do every day,” she says. “I even had to negotiate against him once. Of course, it was one of my toughest negotiations.” 

— Mary Dempsey