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Get the fax out of football: The ridiculously outdated technology crippling Premier League clubs on transfer deadline day

Angel Di Maria has joined Manchester United for a reported fee of £59.7 million, Arsenal have splashed out £35 million to land Alexis Sanchez and Liverpool have gone out on a limb to sign Mario Balotelli for £16 million. The 2014 summer transfer window has been a record-breaking one for the Premier League.

Di Maria's Manchester move is the highest fee ever paid by a British club, and the total spend by Premier League clubs in the window has exceeded £700 million for the first time. Come deadline day, football fans around the world will be glued to their screens, following the action as it unfolds, praying for their club to land that dream signing.

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However, deadline day can also result in heartbreak for fans, managers and directors alike.

During the last transfer window, Liverpool rather dramatically failed to sign Yevhen Konoplyanka because the paperwork was not signed in time. There are many other examples of paperwork slowing down or preventing signings altogether: Tottenham Hotspur missed out on Porto's Joao Moutinho in 2012, Manchester United failed to land Fabio Coentrao in 2013 and Arsenal's signing of Andrey Arshavin in 2009 only went through after the deadline went to extra time.

So what's the reason behind all of these last-minute transfer disappointments? The answer, believe it or not, lies with fax machines. Somewhat shockingly, multimillion pound football transfers are still processed through these outdated, unreliable pieces of technology. Rumour has it that club staff are told to wear trainers on the final day of the window, as they will be expected to run to and from the device so often, instead of being sat at their desks, running automated workflows.

Football is a business, and just like any other business, paperwork needs to be filed and reviewed by the appropriate parties for all kinds of transactions. The issue during deadline day is that club secretaries get hit by a huge barrage of paperwork under extreme pressure. This season's window shuts on 1 September and, as the very nature of deadline day means that transactions will go right to the wire, club staff simply need to have technology at hand which enables business to take place successfully and at speed. The fax machine does not enable this.

There's also an interesting legal angle related to this outdated fax reliance. DocuSign's chief legal officer, Ken Moyle, shared thoughts on the legal status of faxed documents by football clubs during the transfer window.

"Contracts have been historically hand-signed in order to give legal effect to an agreement, first by showing that they intended to be bound, and then by further showing who the parties were and what they agreed to," he said. "When offers are flying about and when deals are made and lost in seconds, what you need is speed and transparency. With millions of pounds at stake, why would anyone want to rely on a fax machine?

"In this digital age, you don't need a handwritten signature to form a contract. But if you are going to "go digital", you need to have certain safeguards in place to ensure that your agreement is secure, enforceable and – especially in the case of a football contract — delivered on time.

"Fax is the worst of both worlds. It takes a paper contract – produced through the slow, inexact and nontransparent old-world process — and feeds it into an outdated, non-secure technology "black box" called a fax machine, which transmits a low-grade picture of the paper contract, over copper wires, to another black box, which may or may not be fully operational.

"Faxes are also not traceable while in transmission, so even if you've signed and sent across your contract by the deadline, you will not control over whether it is actually delivered or not. Did your contract get to the recipient in time? You probably won't know the answer to this until after the deadline has passed.

"A major reason for signing a contract is to keep a party from repudiating it in the course of performance. Signed contracts provide evidence of an agreement. However, the reliability of a faxed document in a court of law has to be called into question. After all, it is merely a bad photograph of an original paper record, which may have been altered or might be missing altogether.

"The solution is electronic contracting. Online contracts can be executed and delivered in real time, with secure measures for ensuring the privacy, as well as the integrity, of documents. This creates a solidly enforceable and verifiable signature that defeats repudiation claims before they even arise. Just as importantly, at the football contract deadline, all parties will know that the contract has been executed and received (or not) instantly, potentially preventing millions of pounds from being lost."

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Digital transaction management, where documents are seamlessly and securely processed via the cloud, needs to be widely adopted because of the benefits it brings. The Premier League has has made great technological strides on the pitch; now we need to kick the boardroom into the 21st century.

Image credit: eevee life

Mark Law is the head of business development and a sports technology expert at DocuSign