Olympics Work Fills Lawyer's Passport
Adam G. Mersereau negotiates sports sponsorships around the globe for IOC partner program
As director of legal affairs and head of business affairs for International Olympic Committee Television & Marketing Services, Adam G. Mersereau travels the globe negotiating sponsorship deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
He is lead attorney for the IOC's global corporate partnership program, known as TOP for The Olympic Partner. Working closely with his boss, B. Davis Butler, senior vice president of marketing development, he helps structure and negotiate deals from term sheets to definitive agreements ranging in value from $80 million to $250 million. He is also involved in post-agreement compliance and education programs. His work includes one of the largest sports sponsorship deals in history -- a 12-year global Olympic sponsorship with The Coca-Cola Co.
He helped negotiate the first global sports sponsorship deal with Lenovo, a computer hardware maker based in Beijing that bought IBM's laptop business. He worked on an eight-year global sponsorship with General Electric. And he has sealed deals with Johnson & Johnson, Kodak, McDonald's, Panasonic, Samsung and Visa, to name a few. In most cases, he deals with in-house lawyers and top marketing executives. He also travels to meet with leaders in host cities and to the International Olympic Committee headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland.
IOC Television & Marketing Services has offices in Atlanta -- on Peachtree Road near Phipps Plaza in Buckhead -- because it started as Meridian Management, founded by former King & Spalding lawyer Chris Welton, who learned the business when Atlanta hosted the Olympics in 1996.
Mersereau is a native of Newberry, S.C. He shared some of his experiences with travel and the art of negotiation in a recent conversation:
Why he became a lawyer: After 4 1/2 years in the Marines, I decided to get out and go to law school. As an officer, I'd been asked to conduct two Judge Advocate General investigations. Every base has a legal office where the lawyers are, of course, understaffed. They get officers to be fact finders for them. ... I had to work with the lawyers on the base. I just found it all really interesting.
On leaving the law firm to go in-house: The people I worked with were great -- very helpful. The working atmosphere was good. The support staff and facilities were great. It was really a good experience. I went through all the difficulties that new associates go through, struggling to make hours, struggling to make expectations. By the fourth year, I was seeing the benefits of the practice of law and of being at McKenna. Things really started to get smooth -- and then the phone rang. It was an old acquaintance of my wife's at Meridian Management. They needed a lawyer to help do all those sponsorship deals. I was worried about all the travel involved, but I just couldn't pass it up. My wife and I agreed it was going to be a good experience. I came in November 2003. In January 2005, the IOC purchased Meridian Management. It's now called IOC Television & Marketing Services. It's owned by the IOC and functions as the IOC marketing department.
Travels: Since I've worked here, I've been to nine countries, including China nine times -- the Beijing games are coming up in August -- and Japan, Korea, Taiwan and, of course, Switzerland. The 2021 games are going to be in London. I go there quite a bit. Also Athens, Greece, in 2004 and Italy in 2006. And Vancouver, British Columbia. The winter games are there in 2010.
On being away from family: They get out the globe and talk about the country. I was worried about traveling too much, but it turned out not to be that way. When I'm home, which is most often, the job itself is easy to manage. I don't work weekends. And I take one or two trips a month. The first time I went to China was for one day. (It's a 20-hour flight.)
Passing time on planes: It's not as bad as you would think -- when you have kids and you have a life -- to have a 16-hour block of time to sleep and read and write in total quiet. The IOC lets us fly business class. Even if it's full, it's comfortable. You have to sleep on the way because when you get there, you're in meetings. Your body clock is still off, but if you don't sleep, you're dead.