Technology in sport - a game of two halves

14 September 2015 | Clubs & Rightsholders
Technology in sport - a game of two halves
In many senses technology has already taken the world of sport to a new level. However, looking back at the closing stages of the recent football transfer window, you could be forgiven for thinking that this progress had been forgotten.

David de Gea’s protracted transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid finally looked like it was going to happen on the last day of the Spanish transfer window, until two of the world’s biggest clubs failed to get their paperwork done in time.

In an age where players are transferred for tens of millions of pounds on a regular basis, it seems like none of this money is reinvested in improving the actual mechanics of the transfer process itself. But that is not to say that sport is a complete technology backwater.

Ahead of the game

On the field of play, technology and sport have a much stronger relationship. Goal-line technology has gone a long way to ruling out injustices in football, reducing human error and the pressure placed on the referee and his assistants. Hawk-Eye in tennis gives players and fans the chance to see the most marginal calls reach the right decision. The same technology helps the umpires reach the correct decision in cricket and provides fans with greater insight into the fine margins by which the game can be won and lost. Across all sports, coaches and players can measure individual performance and fitness levels thanks to wearable devices on the training field. All of these technological advances contribute to fans seeing the highest quality of sport possible.

However, the degree to which tech is used to enhance the on-field performance of sports stars, poses a striking juxtaposition to the technology that is used to manage the administration of sport beyond the field of play. The de Gea transfer that never was, is a perfect case in point. Despite the money involved in these deals, football clubs are still using outdated technology such as fax machines to get that vital signature over the line.The latest technology in medicine is used to ensure these players are at the peak of physical fitness but when it comes to sealing the deal clubs still use kit that is prone to breaking down and rarely used in any other workplace. Across numerous other industries, businesses do not think twice about signing a document electronically for example or sharing documents collaboratively online. The world of sport must catch up.

But this is not the sole preserve of football. Other sports, such as tennis have maintained equally outdated practices and it’s not just the professionals in the game that suffer as a result, it’s the fans as well.

Still not hitting the net

One of the flagship sporting tournaments of the year, Wimbledon, seems to make it as hard as possible for fans to get a ticket. As opposed to giving the public online forms to complete or an app to register interest in joining the ballot for tickets, the tournament’s organisers instead burden themselves and the fans with a drawn out, paper-based system. If interested in attending, one has to send off via post for an official form before completing that and posting on to the organisers once more. Only if you live outside of the UK can you apply for a ballot place online.

As a result of these antiquated processes, the game is not only causing itself a huge headache due to the amount of time and money it has to pour into organising this paper-based process, it is making the game less accessible to fans of all ages. People are accustomed to running their lives digitally, buying tickets at their own convenience and completing processes instantly, yet such a huge sporting event decides to throw them back in time.

Getting down to business

If the world of sport is to take full advantage of the incredible performances we are seeing from professional athletes, it must apply the same level of dedication to innovating and improving standards in business, as the stars of the industry do with their game. That they haven’t so far, leaves major problems. Manchester United now have to put up with a disgruntled player who may well not command a transfer fee come the summer. Real Madrid have missed out on a player who could have helped them achieve their goals on the pitch this season. Many tennis fans will miss out on Wimbledon tickets due to the application process. There is a simple answer to solving all of these problems - taking the business of sport digital.

Merely by adopting the technologies that other industries such as banking, retail and property have, like electronic signatures or online customer service, the sports business has another chance to excel and reach another level. If it doesn’t, the industry risks stalling progress and undermining the star quality that we all want to see from the world’s top sports stars.

Jesper Frederiksen is the vice president and general manager EMEA at DocuSign.

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