Arthur Blank’s top lawyer, set to retire, reflects on career

Mike Egan in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Photo by Jennifer Mason)

Credit: Jennifer Mason

Credit: Jennifer Mason

Mike Egan in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Photo by Jennifer Mason)

As a lawyer, Mike Egan was taken aback when one of his clients, Arthur Blank, told him in December 2001 that he’d signed a napkin on which an agreement to buy the Falcons for $545 million was scribbled.

The price was considerably more than Blank’s advisors had told him the team was worth.

“We had our fancy investment bankers and King & Spalding, and everybody had been, like, ‘Arthur, you don’t need to pay more than $475 million, maybe $500 million, for this team,’” Egan recalled this week. "He goes out and comes back with the napkin from the dinner with (then Falcons owner) Taylor Smith: $545 million. We’re all, like, what? And Arthur says, ‘Look, this team is going to be worth a lot more than that. The city is growing. The NFL is growing.’

“You know what the Falcons are worth now,” Egan said. (Close to $3 billion, according to Forbes.)

Egan, then a partner in the corporate practice group at the Atlanta-based King & Spalding law firm, converted Blank’s napkin scribbles into a definitive purchase agreement. “I wouldn’t be worth my salt if I didn’t come up with a lot of pages to document a transaction,” he said.

He has been a lawyer and adviser to Blank ever since and has worked on some of the biggest transactions in Atlanta sports over the past two decades, including the construction of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the launch of Atlanta United.

After serving as primary outside counsel to Blank and his businesses for 15 years, as well as representing many other corporate clients, Egan left King & Spalding to join AMB Sports and Entertainment – parent company of the Falcons, Atlanta United and Mercedes-Benz Stadium -- full-time as senior vice president and general counsel in January 2015.

Egan, 64, will retire from that role at the end of this year and will be succeeded by Joe Pierce, who’ll leave his job as chief legal officer of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets to join AMBSE next month. In retirement, Egan will continue to advise Blank’s family foundation in a limited capacity and will consult on some transitional matters.

“It is a retirement with a little bit of keeping a finger in the pie,” he said.

Egan, a native Atlantan, first met Blank while representing Home Depot, co-founded by Blank, on mergers and acquisitions in the mid-1990s. He had no idea his career eventually would center around sports.

“It was something I stumbled into,” Egan said. “I definitely couldn’t say I made a strategic decision when I was at King & Spalding to get into sports. It just happened through my relationship with Arthur. But I loved it because I’ve always been a huge sports fan since I was a little kid.”

His first sports-related legal work came on Blank’s purchase of the Falcons, announced in December 2001 and completed in February 2002. Egan recalls that a few advisors met with Blank shortly before his private one-on-one dinner with Smith where the deal was reached.

“We were kind of reviewing how he ought to handle the negotiations,” Egan said. "The next morning, we all jump on a conference call, waiting with bated breath to hear what had happened. Arthur is, like, ‘Well, we both signed a napkin to acquire the team for $545 million.’

"As a lawyer, I was a little taken aback, not just by the price but also by the fact he appeared to have made a binding $545 million commitment at a point we hadn’t really completed our due diligence and didn’t have any reps and warranties. But it all turned out cool.

“We then engaged in the full-scale negotiations. But the deal was publicly announced based on a napkin, which was certainly not what I was used to as an M&A (mergers and acquisitions) lawyer at King & Spalding.”

More than a decade later, still at King & Spalding, Egan was immersed in another big project for Blank: negotiating and drafting a deal with the city and state to build a new stadium. Negotiations dragged on for two years. In January 2015, Egan left the law firm after 31 years to go in-house with Blank’s organization. In addition to his role as general counsel, Blank assigned him to oversee construction of the stadium.

“I told him, ‘Arthur, I don’t know anything about construction,’” Egan said. "I’ll always remember what he said: ‘We’ve got plenty of people who know construction. I just need someone who can ask hard questions and get things done.’

“The next three years was as much pressure and stress and insanity as anything in my professional career,” Egan said, "but I say that with a smile on my face because I loved every second of it.

“The sheer scale of the project is still, when I look back, just staggering. We had about 65 subcontractors on the construction side and about 35 subcontractors on the design side. … That summer of 2017, leading up to the August opening of the stadium, was the craziest time of my life. … But it was great. It was so gratifying when that stadium opened up.”

Egan also was involved in Blank’s purchase of an MLS expansion franchise. The deal was announced in 2014, and Atlanta United began play in 2017, initially at Georgia Tech because Mercedes-Benz Stadium wasn’t ready.

“The acquisition was interesting. It was so different (than the Falcons purchase),” Egan said. "With the Falcons, you were buying an operating team – players and assets, etc. With an expansion team, you’re buying a piece of paper.

“There was a good bit of negotiation over the terms of that, particularly about the size of the franchise fee and when we would pay it. … I still tell people that first game against the Red Bulls at Bobby Dodd Stadium is one of the great moments in Atlanta sports history.”

Egan is comfortable that this is the right time for his retirement. He and his wife, Mindy, plan to keep Atlanta as their primary home. He’ll also keep his Falcons, Braves and Atlanta United season tickets.

“I’ve had this date, end of this year, in my mind for a while,” Egan said. "We’re past the rush of launching the stadium and Atlanta United. It’s just a natural time for a transition. … My 40th wedding anniversary is next year. Mindy has put up with my long, long hours for virtually all of those 40 years, and it’s time for us just to enjoy life a little bit. I’m looking forward to that.

“I don’t feel like I’m cutting anything short. I feel like I’m sitting at the table at the end of dinner fully satisfied with the meal I’ve had.”