Aalok Sharma’s passion for traditional sports along with esports, sports technology and wagering combine into a practice that the Stinson partner said “doesn’t feel like work.”
These areas are intersecting, Sharma said, as traditional “stick-and-ball” sports clients look at esports, legalized sports wagering and sports tech as ways to boost fan engagement and enthusiasm.
“My practice is really the emergence of the sports entertainment part of traditional sports,” Sharma said.
A former NCAA Division I athlete who ran track and cross-country in college, Sharma also brings a love of playing video games to his work.
Sharma, though, has concerns about the ambiguity of legalized sports wagering in amateur and professional video game contests, or esports competitions.
States have created a patchwork of sports wagering laws since 2018, Sharma said in an article he wrote for the Hennepin County Bar Association.
That was after the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the federal law prohibiting state and local governments from enacting laws that favor sports betting, Sharma said.
Name: Aalok Sharma
Title: Partner, Stinson
Education: B.S., accounting, Birmingham-Southern College; J.D., University of Minnesota Law School
Q: Best way to start a conversation with you?
A: Tell me about the game you watched last night. I’m a huge sports fan, so I’m probably watching sports too. Or tell me what video game you’re playing these days.
Q: Why law school?
A: I was a CPA in my prior career. I found the ability to provide advice and counsel substantially more engaging as a lawyer than as an accountant. I have a saying with my clients — FOTSY — Find a Way to Say Yes. My job, because the space that I operate in is unregulated, tends to be more nuanced. Clients will usually call and say, “This is what I want to do.” And I typically say, “The question you should ask is, should you do this? And, if we’re going to do this, how do we do this?” That’s where I find it more engaging as a lawyer than as an accountant.
Q: What games are you playing?
A: I’m finishing up the old Star Wars “Jedi: Outcast” because the new “Jedi: Survivor” is out. I want to be able to finish the old one before I start the new one.
Q: What are you reading?
A: Usually sports tech blogs. Twitter. Sports Business Journal is really good. TechCrunch is good for this kind of stuff. Sports Techie. It’s an audit of industry publications.
Q: Pet peeve?
A: Lack of curiosity.
Q: Best part of your work?
A: That sports entertainment work doesn’t feel like work. I guess that’s where we all want to get to.
Q: Most challenging?
A: The space is unregulated. Clients sometimes want an answer that says there’s no risk to doing whatever they’re doing. Unfortunately, that’s not the industry that we’re in.
Q: Favorite activity away from work?
A: I love hanging out with my daughter when I can. I’m a big road biker so if I have a couple hours, I’ll hop on the bike and go get a ride in.
Q: Where would you take someone visiting your hometown?
A: Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama. It’s where people go for Space Camp. I did, as a child. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is a big part of where I grew up.
Q: Misconception that others have about your work?
A: People very narrowly think esports is just electronic sports. It’s a discrete issue within my entire practice, which is what I would call emerging sports tech. It’s a broad practice that touches on sort of all sorts of legal issues.
Q: Legal figure you most admire?
A: [Former New Jersey Governor] Chris Christie. He was the one that thought of the novel challenges to sports betting [laws]. What Chris Christie did is unlock a multibillion-dollar market that was largely unregulated in the black market. Good for Chris Christie for being novel regardless of whatever we think about his politics.