Player Agents are a key stakeholder within the AFL industry, managing player contracts and ensuring players are looked after off-field in their daily lives. The AFL Players’ Association plays a key role in regulating the agents and it is the job of Accredited Agents Manager Matthew Lobbe to manage the relationship between players and their agents effectively. The former Port Adelaide and Carlton player gave aflplayers.com.au an insight into what his role entails and how COVID-19 has changed the way he and the organisation operate.
Ben Guthrie: You started at the AFLPA in December last year. How have you found the transition from an AFL locker room to an office environment?
Matthew Lobbe: It’s definitely a lot different. After arriving at the AFLPA, when I had footy training on three nights a week (with Werribee in the VFL) that really kept the balance going for me. I found that I had a lot less time on my hands, but I felt like the balance between work and footy made me feel pretty fulfilled. I’d had some work placement in the last few years of my career as I prepared for transitioning out of the game so I had been getting ready to make that jump. Some of the footy stuff, being part of a team and the dynamics that go with that has helped smooth out my transition and I’ve enjoyed being part of the Legal and Player Affairs team within our organisation. I’d studied a business degree the whole way through my footy career and I’ve been doing my masters the last three years, so I think that helped me be as I ready as I could be when it was time to make the move.
How did you look to establish those relationships with the agents initially?
My manager at the PA (General Manager – Legal and Player Affairs, James Gallagher) encouraged me to get out and have as many initial meetings with as many agents as I could. I tried to catch up with all the Victorian agents and as many interstate agents as I could until the lockdown happened. It was about sitting down and having a good chat and trying to build those relationships. The fact that I’d played footy, and been a player with an agent for a long period of time, and had gone through getting drafted, getting traded, getting delisted, all of that stuff made the conversations a lot easier.
When COVID-19 hit I imagine every agent and plenty of players were keen to get clarity around the things that affected them. What was your role in all of that?
My key role was to communicate as quickly and clearly as we could for the agent group and keep them updated as things changed so that they could do the best job possible for their players. I think the agents as a whole appreciated the communication from the AFLPA, with regular group updates, that I was responsible for bringing together, being an important part of that. James Gallagher has a great relationship with a lot of the agents, so he was able to directly answer lots of their questions and I think that helped the agents answer their players’ questions as best as possible as well. One of my goals is to be as good a relationship manager across the agent group as I can be. The difficult part of this whole few months is that often there hasn’t been answers because things are constantly changing, and often you’re having conversations where you’d like to know the answers to questions, but you don’t so it’s just a matter of being able to update as things progress. For any players that need to speak to someone regarding their agent, there’s a team here at the PA who can help assist them with any issues or questions they may have.
How do you and the rest of the organisation regulate the agents?
There’s clear protocols around the regulations for agents and my role and my team’s role is to ensure the agents know really clearly what the regulations are and they act according to that. Education is a really important part of ensuring that all of the agents know the expectations under the regulations and we have recently adopted a feedback framework which also helps. Often there will be queries about different issues that we have to be across and then we have to feed back to the agents. There’s a regulation document which we work from, so everything is referred back to that.
What are your priorities for the rest of the year now a return to play is in sight?
We’ve had to change a lot our planning for the rest of the year and adapt things to being online. Our new agent’s course and exam in early June will all be online and I’ve been planning that for the last month or so. Our annual agent’s conference, which is usually in August, will be online as well. There’s always the ongoing communication and dealing with any issues that come up as well as player communication if they’ve got any queries or agent related issues. I also deal with some prospective players who might be looking to the PA for a bit of guidance on different things to do with agents. For me, I am also really keen to ensure there is great mental health education available for agents, and I will be working with our Mental Health and Wellbeing team to deliver that.
There seems to still be a lot of uncertainty around what the NAB League and other under-18 competitions around Australia will look like. How does your role overlap there?
You’re right, there’s a lot of uncertainty at the moment about what the talent pathway is going to look like so as soon as anyone knows we’ll be updating the agents and trying to communicate with prospective players as well. It is an important part of my role and the agent regulations that players and agents are meeting in the talent pathways in the right way. The talent pathways will look a bit different this year, so we will just have to be ready and adapt to how it looks different.
Overall, how are you enjoying your first year in the work force? A little different to what you had been planning for?!
It’s a different lifestyle but I’m enjoying it. The people at the PA have made it a great place to start working. I had footy playing for Werribee alongside what I was doing work wise, and at the moment we don’t know if the season is going to go ahead at all. So I feel lucky in a way that I’ve been able to put a lot of energy into this role while footy has been on hold and if I was still in the AFL system playing I don’t know how I’d be feeling right now. I still feel like I’ve got a desire to keep playing good quality footy for a couple of years, but for now it’s been good to be able to put my energy into this role.
Thanks for your time, Lobbes.