Growing up, Betsy Philpott was a huge fan of baseball, and started playing the sport herself at a young age.
“My best friends in the neighborhood were all boys, so I played baseball with them and I loved it,” she says. “I was pretty good at it, which fueled my fandom even more. I also started collecting baseball cards.” Back then, her favorite players were Mark McGwire and Cal Ripken Jr., who were both accomplishing amazing feats in the game.
But when Philpott was considering career choices, she never thought it was possible for baseball to become her profession. She chose to go to law school at Vanderbilt—which does have one of the best collegiate baseball programs in the country.
“I was told all the time it was impossible to get a job in sports as a lawyer, and unfortunately, I listened. I followed a typical litigation path, which led me to a firm in Washington, DC, in 2008,” Philpott recalls. “In 2011, a lot of my friends were complaining about working at law firms but no one was willing to make a change. I knew I needed to do something—and do it now, while I was single with no kids, and I had the chance to pivot and be flexible.”
She learned about Georgetown’s sports industry management program, a master’s program that was heavy on networking. That was exactly what she needed. “I wanted a particular job in sports as a lawyer, so I needed to meet the right people and learn the subject matters that would make my résumé more appealing,” Philpott explains. “I treated the program like a year-long interview and networked as much as possible.”
Her first job out of the program was as a lawyer for the Major League Soccer Union, a small group in Bethesda, Maryland. While working there, she got a call from a friend who asked if she would be interested in joining MLB’s Washington Nationals as an intern.
“I had already gone back to zero—I had left my law firm office, I was back on the bottom, and I needed a job that paid,” she says. But she met with the Nationals anyway, and that meeting resulted in a job offer. Over the last eight years, Philpott has been promoted again and again, and now serves as senior vice president and general counsel for the 2019 World Series champions, the Washington Nationals.
In her role, Philpott’s responsibilities range from working on multimillion-dollar cryptocurrency and sponsorship deals, to working through issues related to Nationals Park, to handling all non-game day events and concerts at Nationals Park, including artists like Taylor Swift and Bruce Springsteen.
“Our department handles all of the legal projects for the entire organization, as well as our nonprofit, and we help handle the majority of work for our spring training facility,” she says. “Roughly 70 percent is contract and transactional work, with the remaining 30 percent being managing litigation and offering legal advice for everyone from ownership down to the most recent hire.”
She says that all of the club counsel of the various MLB teams are pretty close, and has enjoyed seeing the number of women in the group grow: when she joined the Nationals, just four of the thirty were women; today that number has increased to eight.
Philpott was promoted to her latest role in February of 2020; a month later, COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the world. But throughout the pandemic—and her life—her love for baseball has endured.
“What’s changed now is that instead of being passionate about one team or player, I’m more passionate about aspects of baseball,” she notes. “For instance, if there’s a really great player, like Fernando Tatis Jr., for the Padres, I get excited about him. And we have Juan Soto here, and I love watching what he can do. I just get more excited about the direction the sport is heading in or momentous moments.”
One of her biggest accomplishments was working on the Nationals’ deal with BetMGM.
“It’s not very often you get the opportunity to add a large revenue stream to your business, but once DC passed their law that permitted sports gambling, we became the first baseball deal executed that also included a brick-and-mortar sportsbook,” Philpott explains. “For me, I got to learn a completely new subject matter and work with lawyers in a different industry.”
Philpott was also instrumental in the Nationals’ releasing its first NFTs last year, working out the legalities of both NFTs and cryptocurrency—which are both gaining a lot of traction in baseball circles.
Looking ahead, the Nationals have a number of complex projects the SVP and general counsel will be working on, including electric vehicles and other initiatives intended to keep the Nationals on the cutting edge of all aspects of the business.
“One of my favorite things is being a leader and sounding board to a lot of different people,” Philpott says. “As I’ve grown in this company, I take into consideration how important it is to develop these general relationships with everyone, so they feel they have a place to go to ask questions or get advice.”
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