Jeffrey Dobin, Athlete Advocates
First, can you let readers know how you and your firm got involved in sports law – was this an intended focus for you all along?
My firm was created with the purpose to provide top caliber legal services to athletes. I made the decision to pursue law school while interning for RealGM, a company that tracks player trades and transactions, and also sells proprietary salary cap software to NBA teams.
After speaking with one of their founders who was an attorney, as well as numerous NBA general managers who had also previously practiced law, I realized a law degree would help me stand out and provide a competitive advantage in sports and business.
You recently started Athlete Advocates – what differentiates you from other agencies?
In September of 2010, Ryan Scarpa and I officially opened the doors at Athlete Advocates. However, we had been preparing for years for that moment. Since 2007 we had been growing our industry knowledge and experience to be able to provide our clients with top caliber representation from two attorneys and agents.
What differentiates us is our unique approach and willingness to connect and interact with athletes that most agents cannot. Our attention to detail, and most importantly, personal service distinguishes our firm from “large scale” agencies. It is this personal service and true relationships we form with players and their families that allows us to compete for top talent.
There are no off-hours at Athlete Advocates.
In addition to this level of service, Ryan’s understanding of the game provides a huge advantage for us. The fact that he played on both sides of the ball at Hofstra University with roughly ten NFL players allows him to understand the game in a way that most agents wish they could. His relationships with coaches, executives and athletes across the country are a big help to our company.
Your expertise, in part, is with salary cap management from the agent’s perspective. How are you able to put that know-how to use for your client and how are you able to get on each team’s cap situation?
I pride myself on the numbers and business side of the game. I have a firm grasp of the new CBA, and have met with team executives, and studied hundreds of contracts.
Because of the new CBA, rookie salary pool and various loopholes, contracts can become complicated. By understanding past contracts and current trends, we can predict which teams’ financial resources will be allocated for specific starting and back-up positions. By analyzing the data we collect and speaking regularly with scouts and team personnel, we have a solid understanding of the “needs and wants” of each team.
The database and system we have created over the years is extensive, and provides accurate estimates on many aspects of the game. We have an accurate projection before the draft of how many athletes at each position will be drafted, and the amount of income each draft pick will earn in salary.
Your agency also gets involved with draft preparation. What are your thoughts on the concerns that there’s too much emphasis now on combine numbers versus actual on-field play and how it affects your less-heralded clients?
Just like SAT scores are a strong indicator of college success, Combine numbers offer insight on how an athlete will fair at the professional level. With that being said, Combine times and measurements only play a small role in the overall draft process.
It is a common misconception of fans that Combine results will dictate draft results. Most of the opinions of scouts and team personnel regarding players are already formed during the course of their college careers. The Combine either confirms what they already know, or moves players slightly up or down in their rankings. Of course, there is always the exception to the rule; a horrible 40 time can be the difference from being a 5th round pick to going undrafted. With that being said, Combine statistics are important for better or worse, so we take our clients training for the combine very seriously.
For those two to three months leading up to the combine, Athlete Advocates clients receive elite training to ensure their highest times and numbers are recorded at the Combine.
One of the biggest issues we see with today’s players is how they adjust to life after football. How do you make that a priority for your clients before they are on the verge of retirement?
Playing football only provides income for a short part of an athlete’s life. Putting it into perspective, a player will usually live more than half of his life after retiring from the game. We make it a priority early on to assist a client in preparing for life after football. We offer advice, set up off-season internships for clients in various fields, and coordinate their enrollment in broadcast boot camps, coaching opportunities, etc. We believe in a proactive approach and genuinely want our friends and clients to succeed in life, not just in sport.
Do you represent any Pittsburgh athletes and have you worked with the Steelers organization?
It’s funny you ask.
We actually don’t represent any Pittsburgh athletes but Ryan did play at Hofstra with your very own, Willie Colon. At this past Combine Ryan and I set up meetings with dozens of individuals. Ryan had the opportunity to speak with Coach Tomlin who is always enthusiastic and confident about life, and his team. We are hopeful that a client will be drafted or sign as a free agent with the Steelers soon! I have always been a fan of their philosophy and winning culture!
You also help clients with charitable endeavors. What have been some of the more unique events you’ve put on to date?
We’ve had some tremendous experiences working with athletes. One of my favorite athletes to work with is Vince WIlfork of the New England Patriots. His father passed away from Diabetes when he was playing football at Miami. His wife, Bianca, plays a huge role in running the foundation which raises money for Diabetes research. While some athletes go through the motions in their charity work, Vince and Bianca are very passionate about their non-profit foundation.
What are some of the biggest misperceptions clients have when they first start working with an agent, and how do you handle those?
Every client is different but one of the most important aspects of being an agent is setting clear goals, timelines and ALWAYS keeping in constant communication. Some clients only want assistance in negotiating contracts and managing their football careers. Some on the other hand, need help preparing for all that life will throw at them. Many athletes go through a series of “firsts” that they didn’t see coming.
We try to ease the transition and help our clients become independent and self-sufficient. We make it a point to inquire as to how involved a specific client wants us to be in their business and personal lives. After gaining a clear understanding of their interests, we are then able to serve them zealously.
Likewise, what are some of the biggest misperceptions fans have about agents and the work you do?
Many fans and students think being an agent is always glamorous. Although it is and I truly enjoy every day of work, there are many aspects of the business, which are not glamorous. Just like with any job, there is a ton of work done behind the scenes. For every hour spent negotiating a contract, I spend thousands of hours on the road traveling to games, contacting teams to promote our clients, meeting with clients, scouting new clients, making phone calls and crunching numbers. The work can be tedious and boring at times.
However, meeting with clients and their families, helping them achieve their goals, and calling them with good news… have provided for some of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had!
What are the most frustrating – and rewarding – aspects of your job?
I might meet with ten clients but only sign a handful of them. That can be frustrating. To get those ten meetings I may have had to meet with 30 other people first. Family members, friends and coaches usually provide an initial layer of protection and privacy for the athlete. To get those 30 meetings I may have had to make 100 phone calls. For every successful phone call or meeting there are dozens of rejections. That’s part of the nature of the business.
Ryan and I have driven five hours to meet with athletes, or flown across the country for a final interview with a potential client, only to find out upon arrival that the decision has already been made and he has signed with Agency X. That’s not only frustrating, its expensive too. Tough times like that make it even more rewarding when things go right!
Over the last few years, many things have been bouncing our way. Fortunately, we are prepared for each opportunity we create and each successful milestone is more rewarding than the last! In our career thus far, it is clear that to attract top talent and compete with large scale agencies, personal service and attention is key. We therefore limit the number of players we recruit and ultimately sign, so that there is no shortfall in quality.
In this business, reputation will follow you everywhere, and we want our clients to feel confident they are receiving representation that is second to none.
Any last thoughts for readers?
I feel honored to have been contacted and thank Ron for taking the time to conduct this interview. I am truly blessed to have a talented, industrious and intelligent lawyer on my side in Ryan Scarpa, and am thankful each day I get to work in a field I am so passionate about.
I encourage every person, young or old, to pursue their dreams and reach their goals. While some people are miserable going to work each day, I feel the opposite. I love what I do and appreciate our clients for believing in the Athlete Advocates team and giving us the opportunity to work on their behalf!