Providing a ‘nuanced’ service and experience for stakeholders
As the general manager of legal for the AFL Players’ Association, Megan Comerford works within a kind of “niche business within a niche industry”. Such work means, she says, catering to myriad idiosyncrasies for sportspeople across the code.
Speaking this week on The Corporate Counsel Show, Ms Comerford explained that the primary role for the AFLPA is collective bargaining — that is, “ensuring that players have the best possible pay conditions, helping players to grow the game and negotiating that with the AFL”.
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The implementation of said collective bargaining agreements, ensuring that working conditions are being met, facilitating wellbeing services, as well as managing broad stakeholder relations and business operations make for full working days for her and her team.
The law department, she said, does “whatever we can to provide players with the best possible experience as people, rather than just athletes”.
To this end, she mused, the AFLPA is a kind of “niche business within a niche industry”.
Part of the role, Ms Comerford went on, involves making sure that the investment being made by the sporting industry in individual players, and in their abilities, is being met so that those players can commit themselves to Australian rules football in the right ways.
That, she outlined by way of example, “was a key pillar, and really the foundation, of our negotiation for season seven of the AFLW: ensuring that the industry is investing in the players so that they’re rewarded for the work that they’re putting in, and the level that they’re playing at”.
Moreover, she added, such assurances are needed so that players “can afford to actually apply themselves physically, in the ways that they need to as elite athletes”.
The players across the board, she noted, “have different needs from us”.
“For example, most of the players in the AFL men’s league have agents, accredited managers, whereas in the women’s league traditionally, there’s been less of that. There’s a bit more now that things are growing a little bit more quickly, but that means that our service is often direct with the players compared to through a manage,” she detailed.
There is also the consideration, Ms Comerford continued, that the majority of AFLW players have other jobs.
“Some of them are teachers, doctors, engineers, paramedics, tradies; there’s all sorts of different backgrounds. They’re such a diverse group, which is an incredible group to be able to work with. They inspire me certainly every day with what they’re able to do on the field and off, and how they balance that out,” she reflected.
“I’ll never fully understand how they can do that. But it means that the way we provide our programs and services is just different. In the men’s game, we make sure that there’s enough time off for players to study or pursue other interests. Setting themselves up for life after football. Whereas in W, traditionally, up to now, it hasn’t necessarily been like that because players are already set up for life after football, because football’s always been a secondary thing.
“So it’s certainly a different type of servicing and type of approach from our perspective, but ultimately, they’re all football players and there are some needs that overlap. We just have to kind of approach it in a nuanced way and make sure we’re offering the best experience for all.”
Such work is hugely motivating for Ms Comerford, she told Lawyers Weekly.
“If we keep our finger on the pulse on certain development areas, our sport — being one of the biggest in the country – can lead the way on best practice governance and processes and principles to really drive Australian sport forward.
“That’s not daunting to me — that makes me excited,” she concluded.
The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Megan Comerford, click below: