Jared Bartie controls the mayhem for WWE
Published in Corporate Counsel Edition - May 2010 magazine
on April 12, 2010
Updated on April 21, 2010
Come hell or high water, Jared Bartie was going to have a career in sports.
“As a child, my basketball hero was Dr. J, though whether I played similarly to the good doctor [Julius Erving] is up for debate,” Bartie laughs from a conference room at the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) headquarters in Stamford, Conn. “I played basketball with All-Americans in high school. But if you went back to Cambridge basketball junkies, they’d remember the other guys, not me.”
His former teammate Lance Dottin, now a high school teacher and football coach, says Bartie was the quintessential team player. “[Jared] was real cerebral. He could pass, he was an excellent player, but he was very much underrated on our team. He did everything the coach asked of him, and probably sacrificed his own game.”
Bartie was raised by a single mother and his grandparents—his mother was an administrative assistant at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, while his grandfather was a superintendent at Harvard University and grandmother was a nurse’s aide at Cambridge City Hospital. With an emphasis on academics in the household, and the realization that he would not become the next Dr. J, Bartie set his sights on American University in Washington, D.C., where he won an academic scholarship and majored in law and society. “I figured I had to find another way to stay in sports, so I focused more on the academic side, to get in with a league or as a sports agent,” he says.
It was a smart move. Today, Bartie is the general counsel of WWE.
After graduating from Northwestern University School of Law in 1993, he began his career in the sports law practice group at Proskauer Rose in New York, where he represented the National Basketball Association as a “very junior” associate leading up to the 1995 lockout. “My work consisted mainly of doing research and drafting memoranda,” he says. “I remember carrying litigation bags to one of the collective-bargaining matters, and being happy to do that.”
But colleagues remember his contributions. “I would say on average, without exaggeration, six to seven days a week, we were in the office from 8:30 a.m. until two in the morning preparing summaries, support through arbitration cases, anything to prepare for a conference call with [NBA commissioner] David Stern the following morning,” says Jeffrey Stein, formerly an associate at Proskauer and now senior vice president and portfolio manager at the investment firm Neuberger Berman. “You couldn’t tell if [Jared] had been working for three days straight or had been working for 10 years when the spotlight came on to present to the partners—it was as polished and professional as it gets.”
Throughout the negotiations, Bartie kept the atmosphere fun. “When we finished one section of what we were doing, instead of breaks, [Jared] had a little basketball net on the back of his door, and we’d go play hoops sitting in office chairs to get our minds off work,” Stein recalls. “There were a lot of fun moments with the two of us.”
After a year and a half at Proskauer, though, Bartie decided to move back to D.C., where he joined Black Entertainment Television. “That’s where I learned to be an in-house lawyer,” he says. “I learned to understand the needs of business personnel, [and] to apply legal principles to get an end result. When I got there I didn’t know anything about entertainment law. I did anything, from photocopying agreements with vendors to labor and employment work. I taught myself the entertainment business, sitting in production trucks and just watching, acting like a sponge. I gained the understanding that to be an in-house lawyer, you really have to be in tune with what the company’s business objectives are at the end of the day.”
While some colleagues avoided taking on the network’s West Coast entertainment work because of the late hours, Bartie was quick to volunteer. His enthusiasm paid off. Soon he was promoted to chief counsel for the entire entertainment division, dealing with TV, magazines, sales, marketing, and myriad other responsibilities, such as the details of Michael Jackson’s performance at the BET Walk of Fame ceremonies.
“I wasn’t afforded the luxury of going to the library or LexisNexis, but people came in and expected an answer on the spot,” Bartie says. “I learned to think on my feet.”
In late 1998, Bartie, then recently married, moved back to New York, where he had brief tenures at Scholastic Inc. and Dennis Publishing, then best known for Maxim magazine. The laissez-faire atmosphere at Dennis—where his office was a converted storage closet bereft of a door—came as a corporate culture shock. “[Publisher] Felix Dennis authorized a T-shirt that said ‘It’s better to apologize than ask for permission,’ to my chagrin,” he says.
Nine months into his term, Bartie got a call from a Proskauer partner, who explained that his client, NBC, was considering a joint venture with the World Wrestling Federation (the company’s former moniker) to launch a new professional football league. The companies were searching for a head of XFL legal affairs. “My thought was this would be a perfect way to bring my experience with sports and entertainment together in one place,” he says.
The league was a well-documented failure, but Bartie—the league’s last official employee when it closed after a single season in August 2001—counts it among his career high marks. “Talk about a fast-paced environment,” he says. “It was like getting dropped in the 12-foot end of the pool and no one asks if you can swim.”
An avid sports fan, Bartie was thrilled to act as the official league representative for an XFL game. And remarkably, he managed to wind down the league without any end-of-corporation lawsuits.
When Bartie locked his XFL office for the last time, he walked two doors down the hall to a desk in the WWE’s legal department, before moving on to Radio City Entertainment, where he was the vice president of new business development for a year. After that, it was back to sports, becoming general counsel for the United States Tennis Association, a nonprofit organization that stands at the top of a complicated federation of 17 sectional tennis associations. With his ready laugh, non-confrontational style and straight talk, he earned the respect of the USTA’s president and chairman of the board, Alan Schwartz.
“We were financing Arthur Ashe Stadium with a complicated bond issue that had many compliance requirements, and his predecessors had not been as diligent as they might have been,” Schwartz says. “He worked with outside counsel and refinanced $150 million worth of debt. Jared improved our ratings from a B to an A bond rating, which saved us incredible amounts of money—probably close to $1.5 million a year on our interest rates. He was a get-it-done lawyer.”
After three U.S. Opens, Bartie went back to the sport of his youth, joining the league office of the NBA, where he was vice president of new business development operations. In 2007, he moved to Charlotte, N.C., to become the chief administrative officer and general counsel for the Charlotte Bobcats.
His last move came in 2008, when he was offered the chance to return to the New York City area, this time as WWE’s general counsel. “I had the chance to come back to an organization I was fond of and where I’d been treated well, and be general counsel to a global entertainment company,” he says. “It’s like an opportunity to come back home.”
Among his responsibilities are entertainment and intellectual property matters, as well as corporate compliance and risk management, and handling legal issues surrounding events such as WrestleMania and SummerSlam.
“He has the right spirit, the right tenacity, and the right personality,” says Donna Goldsmith, WWE’s chief operating officer. “You have to be on your toes here all the time. We’re different from any other sports or entertainment company because we’re on 52 weeks a year, 24/7.
Bartie enjoys working for WWE’s CEO, Vince McMahon. “It would be convenient to say I’m a fan of Vince McMahon,” he says. “I have an extreme amount of admiration for Vince in terms of him being an incredible business man, a marketing maven. I’d go as far as calling Vince a marketing genius. Working for him again was something very appealing to me.”
Goldsmith testifies to the working relationship: “Vince once made Jared laugh so hard he couldn’t stop laughing.”
Circling back to Bartie, she continues: “Here’s the thing that makes Jared so different from most of the GCs I’ve worked with throughout the years: I’ve never worked with a lawyer quite so astute on the business side. He listens—a lot of lawyers don’t listen—he digests, he will be pensive about it, and then comes forward with your options and how it will affect the bottom line. He gets it, and I don’t see that often.”
For Dottin back in Cambridge, Bartie has become something even more important: a real-life hometown success story.
“I talk about him all the time to the kids here in the high school,” Dottin says. “I say, ‘Google him. Look him up. He’s accomplished so much in a short period of time, and he’s going to continue to accomplish more. He didn’t go on to play in the NBA or be on the big screen, but he’s living the dream.’”
The article that ran in our print magazine incorrectly stated that Jared Bartie was an All-American athlete. Rather, he played with All-American athletes on the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School basketball team. Also, Bartie’s grandfather was incorrectly identified as the superintendant, not a superintendant, at Harvard University. Lastly, Bartie was an associate leading up to, not during, the 1995 NBA lockout.
We regret these errors.