Behind the Plate

Protecting the brand of the Chicago White Sox isn’t just a duty for the team’s general counsel. It’s a responsibility that goes hand in hand with being an avid baseball fan.

John Corvino, General Counsel, Chicago White Sox

The path to the Chicago White Sox’s boardroom is paved with memories, memorabilia, and historic photos. The items lining the hallway’s walls—from the 2005 World Series trophy to baseball bats signed by two of the most legendary long-ball hitters in the history of Major League Baseball (MLB)—are just as captivating as the action on the field.

“This is one of my favorite pieces. You don’t see two players with 1,200 home runs on the same team,” says John Corvino of the enshrined baseball bats from Jim Thome and Ken Griffey Jr. The two iconic athletes played together on the Chicago White Sox in 2008, with a combined 1,242 home runs over the course of their careers.

It’s just one of the stops that Corvino makes, as he also points out some of his favorite memories captured since he joined the White Sox in 2006 as general counsel. With each one, he can recall almost instantly where he was in the ballpark, including former pitcher Mark Buehrle’s perfect game in 2009.

After watching the first four innings, Corvino headed to his office to view the rest of the game on a small tube television. Because of the low-resolution quality, he thought the Tampa Bay Rays had stormed a comeback and tied the game. After being reassured the White Sox were still hosting a shutout, Corvino realized Buehrle was well on his way to a perfect game. Then, in the top of the ninth inning, former outfielder DeWayne Wise made a home run-saving grab at the wall that broadcaster Ken “Hawk” Harrelson exclaimed was one of the greatest catches he had seen in his fifty years of baseball.

That twenty-fifth out is now encapsulated in a photo as well en route to the boardroom.

“Watching Buehrle give the thank you from the pitcher’s mound after Wise made the catch, and watching the catch itself, was unbelievable,” Corvino recalls.

Aside from reliving legendary moments in White Sox history every day, there’s another reason for Corvino’s seemingly endless enthusiasm. Such a passion for working with the team, his colleagues, and seeing fans have an enjoyable outing for every game inspires him to work tirelessly to protect the White Sox brand. As he describes, every department within the Chicago White Sox, from legal to accounting, works to protect the value of the brand, and in turn, that business operations are always swinging for the fences.

“We’re obviously getting out there and hopefully strengthening the brand by putting a team that works hard on the field and getting people excited about the team,” Corvino says. “If that brand is good, if people want to wear our jerseys, etc., then we’re doing something right.”

Determining when, where, and how the White Sox brand can be used is limited by the rules of Major League Baseball, which Corvino describes as a protective parent with significant resources. You don’t always agree with them, but at the same time, you always listen.

But protecting the brand is just as important as utilizing it to generate revenue for the organization. That’s where Corvino and the legal department come in, particularly when it comes to overcoming the challenges of the digital world. Corvino says there’s a constant watch in the digital world to ensure the brand isn’t being used without permission, which is one of the resources that the MLB brings to the table. However, brand protection and proper use requires a team effort, so Corvino also works with several other departments, including marketing.

“I don’t get to play baseball, but I get to be involved in baseball today. And all of a sudden it brings up your energy. It’s a great job. It’s unique. And I work with some great people.”

“The brand is intertwined in almost every department,” Corvino explains. “The baseball operations department’s brand use is very regulated by Major League Baseball. So, there aren’t often legal decisions to make because they know the rules. However, within the creative world of our marketing and sales departments, a multitude of situations can arise. Can I put the Sox logo on a sponsor’s T-shirt? Can I allow a game developer to use a White Sox logo in their video game? There are little things like that coming up all the time.”

A significant portion of protecting the brand is the White Sox logo itself, which has more or less remained the same since 1991. What has changed, though, has been the name of the stadium. Corvino helped lead the legal process on this before the start of the 2017 season as the stadium transitioned from U.S. Cellular Field to Guaranteed Rate Field.

In 2012, U.S. Cellular sold its Chicago business to Sprint, which was not interested in a naming rights deal. Corvino needed to work with U.S. Cellular to terminate the existing arrangement. He also worked with the State of Illinois, which owns the facility through the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (ISFA), as well as with Guaranteed Rate on the deal. “So, you’ve got three moving parts going on at the same time, and we were able to work that out,” Corvino recalls.

Having this many moving parts demands a great deal of communication between Corvino and all other departments within the White Sox organization. He credits this strong communication and success to the organization’s leadership, especially owner Jerry Reinsdorf, whose open-door policy encourages quick and effective communication. While many who work with Reinsdorf are involved in baseball operations and ensuring the team is in the best possible position to win on the field, Corvino is tasked with ensuring that the front office business transactions are legally compliant, coordinated with the interests of other departments, and that each department is getting what it requested from the transaction.

“I’m in the middle of many transactions, and the departments and the people involved rely on legal because we generally know the most about what is going on in a deal,” Corvino says. “It becomes very important to analyze and communicate effectively with all of the other groups.”

And that communication is more than evident, even as Corvino walks the ballpark greeting virtually everyone on a first-name basis. Working with various people and departments brings him just as much enthusiasm as walking into the ballpark.

“Every day when I walk into work, I walk past that World Series trophy, and the first thing I think is that I’m pretty lucky to be working here,” he says.

To relate this enthusiasm, Corvino refers to the 2002 film The Rookie, starring Dennis Quaid as Jim Morris, who made his MLB debut at thirty-five with—ironically—the Tampa Bay Rays (then the Devil Rays). One of the script’s notable lines occurs when Quaid’s character walks into the locker room and says, smiling to a fellow teammate, “You know what we get to do today, Brooks? We get to play baseball.”

“That’s the feeling walking in,” Corvino says. “I don’t get to play baseball, but I get to be involved in baseball today. And all of sudden it brings up your energy. It’s a great job. It’s unique. And, I work with some great people.”

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Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP:

“John is insightful and capable no matter the legal situation, and he provides critical direction to litigation strategy. Equally, John never loses sight of what is best for the team and the game.”

—Robert T. Shannon, Managing Partner