Electronic Signatures Promise To Speed Up Football Transfers

juan mata © Manchester United

Docusign says its technology could make football transfers quicker and easier

Last Friday, football’s transfer window closed for business until the summer, but while plenty of deals were concluding during the January, there were plenty of examples of last-minute switches struggling to meet the deadline and tales of moves falling through because the necessary paperwork was not submitted before the 23:00 cut off point.

Docusign says its electronic signature technology could make such problems a thing of the past by eliminating the need for fax machines and allowing both simple and complex transactions to be completed in real time by multiple people in different countries.

Its technology is used by the likes of Microsoft, HP and Vodafone, but the firm is making a major push in the UK and Europe, with the sports industry a particular target, and football transfers a high profile use case.

Big in America

docusign Windows PHone“Why aren’t we using similar technologies in what is definitely a complex transaction with fixed deadlines, and many different pieces of paperwork?” Jesper Frederiksen, DocuSign Managing Director of EMEA asks TechWeekEurope, adding that the company has deals with a number of basketball, baseball and American football teams.

One of its most high profile contracts is the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), which uses the technology for its own contracts, but is  now offering all of its members a free trial of Docusign following an incident involving Denver Broncos player Elvis Dumervil.

Dumervil had agreed to take a pay cut in order to stay the Broncos as his original wage of $12 million would have meant the team would be over the NFL-imposed salary cap. However Dumervil was unable to find a fax machine in time to submit the required paperwork and Denver was forced to release the player, who later joined the Baltimore Ravens.

Complex transactions

Docusign has customers in all parts of the sports industry and although it admits that having high profile European sports teams on board will raise the company’s public profile, it says there is a genuine business case for its technology

“Our product appeals to pretty much every sized company in every industry and every geography and the sports business is no different,” says Gregor Perotto, senior marketing director at Docusign. But how could it help English football clubs arrange a transfer?

“Typically you obviously have a commercial arrangement between the club and the player and you will need a third party signature from the agent,” explains Fredriksen. “You will need to have medical sign-offs so you know the player is in good shape and has passed all the tests. In many cases there are complex transactions that run back ten years in time where clubs have certain rights to say what a player can and can’t do.”

Envelope delivery

Docusign lets clubs package all of these different documents into what is called an ‘envelope’ and use drag and drop notifications to show who can sign what and where. The envelope is then sent to everyone who needs to sign via email, with a master version hosted in a secure data centre. All users can sign in real time and see who has read what, highlighting any potential hold ups.

“At any given point in time, you have full visibility of where this transaction is at,” he adds. “If for whatever reason anything changes in this process, let’s say a competing offer comes in at the eleventh hour and I want to void this transaction, I can pull the plug on this in real time.”

The advantages of such a system are obvious in that multiple people can sign documents simultaneously rather than wait for a fax to be sent from one person to another and that it can be signed on a mobile device – even on a plane if you have Wi-Fi.

European adoption

Docusign has already signed up Italian football club AS Roma, which uses the software for its commercial division, and a Formula One team, which uses it for its HR tasks. But are European sports organisations slower to adopt newer technology than their US counterparts?

“I don’t think it’s a phenomenon that’s necessarily isolated to sports,” says Fredriksen. “In general, we see the adoption of electronic signatures two to three years ahead in the US.”

However he says different countries will adopt it at different speeds. The UK, Netherlands and Scandinavia are likely to be first, but other nations lack the legal framework for electronic signatures.  France, Germany and Switzerland have a strong focus on data protection and encryption, which is slowing adoption.

“It’s definitely starting to happen over here,” he says, but admits it might take a bit of time to change people’s habits. “There are a lot of emotions attached to signing.”

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