Alongside the goals, saves and controversial ‘falls’ (bites), the use of goal-line technology and magical vanishing spray are two technological innovations which have got people talking during this World Cup. The likes of cricket, rugby and tennis have been using technological innovations for years, and it is great to see football beginning to follow suit. However, players in Rio are facing a difficulty you would not expect in the modern, mobile age – how to manage contract signings during the transfer window when they are out of the country.
As a keen football fan, I know all too well the pain of seeing my dream signing fall apart at the last minute of deadline day. My experience as a businessman working with disruptive technology, however, makes this pain all too unbearable. Why? Because I hate to see the FA and other football organisations around the world continue to utilise an outdated, unreliable piece of technology to process trades: the fax machine.
Get your fax straight
Believe it or not, clubs still have to dust off their fax machine every year in order to send 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sport more widely, it is ridiculous to think that multi-million contracts are still being handled through a piece of outdated technology like the fax machine.
The rush of transfers as the deadline reaches its peak means clubs struggle to manage the sheer amount of paperwork which is needed to file in order to sign a player. 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.
To understand the tensions during the transfer window, you only need to look at Manchester United’s saga with Ander Herrera. After a failed pursuit by (now former) Manchester United manager David Moyes last season, this year’s summer transfer window also saw United’s first bid rejected. Herrera conducted a medical and flew to Manchester to finalise the buy, in an extended series of bargaining that included the footballer paying his own transfer fee. After causing one hell of a stir, the bid was accepted and went through.
But this little piece of drama is nothing compared to the stress at the 11pm closing of the transfer window – the next one being the end of the summer on 1st September. This is a time when boardrooms become furnaces, fuelled by the friction of clubs and players striking deals… and completing paperwork.
Property markets ahead of the game
Many years ago, the property industry began a debate that has subsequently caused a shift in legislation and professional behaviour. The shift I’m talking about was in relation to e-signatures, and their ability to streamline the exchange of legally binding documents. The Electronic Communications Act 2000 enabled the legal finalisation of contracts via electronic means, while in 2001 the Law Commission published a paper advising the government that requirements for writing a signature can be legally satisfied by electronic means. This was just the start. Electronic signatures are being used to great effect already, and uptake looks set to grow and grow. With sentiment today so geared to the immediate, and working behaviour no longer as locationally specific, the property industry isn’t being left behind.
Kicking the fax out of football
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 fax failure fiascos which have previously occurred. 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 is here and readily avaliable, and should be seized by the FA for the economic and environmental benefit it brings.
Other industries and huge businesses are making the most of digital technology. The sports industry should be no different. Player signings are huge in financial as well as sporting terms. Like any business, football associations need to make the most of the technology available to them. I’m looking forward to the day that my club Chelsea handles a signing on the last day of the window through a mobile device and in no time at all. And I think club presidents, managers and fans all over the world are looking forward to it too.
Jesper Frederiksen is DocuSign's Vice President of the EMEA region. Share your reactions in the comments below or tweet him at @jesperf