The past few weeks have been spectacular for football fans everywhere. The World Cup in Rio has seen some great goals, impressive matches and a bite of controversy. Interestingly, we’ve also seen technology used more widely on football’s biggest stage. Goal-line technology was first used during the tournament for France’s group-stage match against Honduras and we have watched the use of vanishing spray by officials with interest. Meanwhile, as signing season commences, players are keeping a keen eye on events in the domestic transfer markets.
As a keen football fan and a businessman working with disruptive technology, it is great to see technology being adopted on the pitch. However, why aren’t clubs embracing it off the pitch too?
One perfect example of where technology should be adopted is the FA’s deadline day, which can be an administrative nightmare. Managers are left pulling out what little hair they still possess as deals fall through at the last minute. We’ve also seen farcical events stall huge signings: last year, Manchester United’s bid for Ander Herrera saw imposters turning up at the league’s offices, pretending to be lawyers managing the trade for the club. This year, Herrera conducted a medical and flew to Manchester to finalise the deal in an extended series of bargaining that included the footballer paying his own transfer fee. Manchester United’s initial bid for Herrera was rejected, only to be accepted days later, in a series of protracted to-ing and fro-ing.
The rush of transfers as the deadline reaches its peak means clubs often miss out on signings as paperwork fails to be put through to the FA before the deadline expires. Historically, the format has seen numerous signings fail as last-minute transfers are not put through in time. The cause of this is the sheer amount of paperwork which clubs need to file in order to sign a player.
Football clubs are like any other business and have to manage their workflow accordingly. Signing players during the transfer window adds to this workflow, particularly with vast amounts of documentation. Like any legal or business transaction, transfers can only be approved when the correct forms are signed. Club secretaries are required by regulation to handle offers to existing players whose contracts are about to expire, in addition to players being registered and transferred in and out during the transfer window. This means clubs are required to organise numerous physical documents on player wages, medical forms, transfer agreements between clubs, international clearance and visa issues. Rumour has it staff are told to wear trainers on the final day of the window, as they will be running to and from the fax so often.
Believe it or not, clubs still have to dust off their fax machine every year in order to send these documents to their opposite number before the deadline closes. Far from the most technologically advanced pieces of hardware in the digital age, faxes are slow and prone to breakdown and provide no added value. When clubs are pushing through a last minute contract, this can be a devastatingly costly failure, both in terms of the finances of the club as well as its performance during the football season. There is also no digital audit trail when it comes to faxed documents. The club secretary claims to have not seen a critical document come through? With fax, you have to take their word for it. In such a huge global business as football and even sport more widely, it is ridiculous to think that multi-million contracts are still being handled through a piece of outdated technology like the fax machine.
So what can be done? Clubs need to kick the fax out of football.
We have already seen electronic signatures adopted by the NFL Player’s Association in order to avoid the fax failure fiasco which occurred for Elvis Dumervile last year. With electronic signatures, players can have their medical documentation signed and processed through an entirely digital platform, meaning agents can view who they need to chase for signatures. Contracts can be processed far quicker and on the move. Players in Brazil for the World Cup would not have to worry about fulfilling their transfer window ambitions – their contracts can be processed remotely, across any device. There is no need for expensive air travel or agents to be flown all over the world. Digital Transaction Management (DTM) and eSignature technology like this exist, and should be seized by the FA for the economic and environmental benefit it brings.
Like any other fan, I enjoy following the excitement as deadline day approaches and closely monitor the news knowing that my dream signing could collapse at the last minute. It’s a pain that football fans know all too well. It’s time to put a stop to wasteful processes and frustrated fans. The FA and football clubs need to integrate with the digital revolution. It’s time to ditch the fax and let the beautiful game be played by the right players at the right clubs.