Episode 12 – Lee Hemmings

M4: Good morning I’m Donavan Whyte and we are at WeWork Spitalfields recording another emerging tech podcast. Talking about my two favourite subjects, football and technology, with Lee Hemmings (LH) who is the Managing Director of Player Lens

Good morning Lee. Have you been watching the under 21s and the Lionesses?

LH: Well its polarised because the Lionesses are not necessarily playing well but they are winning games and the under 21s have been a disappointment given the recent successes we have had with the younger teams over the recent years, anyway its kept us busy with a lot of football still on the screens. 

M4: Could you tell us about Player Lens and why it’s becoming increasingly important in the football eco-system ?

LH: Before entering the football industry. I used to work in the financial sector and I was an investment banker in the equity market. What I noticed over a period of years was that technology was replacing human interaction and with that comes more transparency, connectivity and the compression of fees plus a lot of money was going out of the football industry. 

I looked at the football industry and saw that it was an archaic model and there was a lack of collaboration between clubs that did not really communicate and they did not use any sort of global platform. There was a need for connectivity and transparency to be introduced. We set up Player Lens in 2015 and the aim was to bring a market place and a transactional place for football clubs to operate in the transfer market and operate directly with each other. 

Player Lens is an electronic platform to overcome communication barriers in the player transfer market. Serving clubs since 2015, the platform provides equal opportunity to all clubs and the ability to source and execute transfers with ease. 

Today, 600+ professional football clubs are using the platform at a global level with top clubs from England and Spain already being part of Player Lens. 

When the system identifies a suitable match and further evaluation is carried out, and provided there is a genuine interest we connect the clubs. Generally, we can show between 20 and 50 options for every club in each position.

M4: Just to clarify for everyone Player Lens is A transfer marketplace, that has partly been bought on by the increased freedom of movement of players internationally and the globalization of the transfer market. 

Can you give us an insight into the not so glamorous end of the transfer marker?

LH: Think of Player Lens as the Right Move for the football market in the same way you have Right Move for the property market. 

When the public watches the news they see all the big transfers in Europe. There are about 25,000 transfers a year, which is significantly higher than people think. If we just look at international transfers, which excludes the domestic market there is about $7 billion of transfer that take place every year. If we look at Asia the Asian clubs spend about $400 million bringing talent into Asia and if you look at the talent moving into Asia there has been about 4000 players that have moved into the region in the last couple of years, it’s becoming a true global market place. 

M4: And that movement into Asia is increasing

LH: Yes, very much so. The challenge is whether players see Asia as a key part of their career and footballing journey. For younger players they need to be careful that they do not get stuck there and cannot push forward or come back to what is perceived to be better Leagues such as La Liga or the Premiership. 

M4: Can you tell us how Agents and Footballers have taken to the platform, feels like Player Lens might be eating Agents lunch?

LH: I think so but an Agent is as good as his network. If an Agent is looking to place a player he may have to make 50 phone calls a day. Within the Player Lens platform, we have 600 clubs using the platform so what that means for the Agent is that we are giving more options to the player and the Agents are beginning to understand that we are bringing value to the market. 

The Agent continues to manage the player and his lifestyle, we are not encroaching on that in any way we are just bringing transparency to the market which then benefits the market. 

M4: You touch on the platform a moment ago, can you just explain the platform in a little more detail? 

LH: I think sometimes the best solutions in the tech world are the simple ones; The platform allows clubs to advertise the players they want to sell or the players they no longer want. There are a number of players every year that clubs don’t think are going to make the grade or they are looking to refresh or they are coming to the end of their careers and they want to advertise to the rest of the world. They would indicate the cost of the player, that would be the loan or transfer fee, plus how much they would need to pay for the players salary. That creates a pool of players that have become available. On the other side clubs can go searching based on their parameters, as an example they can say my budget is x, I am looking for a left back, a striker. They can add other characteristics such as the players build, the history of where he has played. 

As with any technology, we can connect to a wider market. Our product is truly globally. This gives clubs so many more options. We can also do it quickly and more economically. Often, we can find options that an Agent cannot generally find. So, whilst we are somewhat encroaching, if an Agent puts a player’s best interest first then they should see the benefits of the increased opportunity for the player. This is understood by many in the Agent community. 

M4: I understand you have OPTA stats as well   

LH: That’s right we couple that with stats of the player, and we provide a profile of the player with videos so people can make an evaluation of the player based on his last five games.  

M4: How important is statistics in making decisions about players?

LH: Data has been around a long time in football with mixed reviews and people have used data with various levels of respect. What we are seeing now with AI is a lot more analytics and reliance on big data, people are extracting a lot more value and you will be able to profile a player based on what he has done and this is something we are looking to bring into the platform in the next couple of weeks. It’s not the be all and end all. I think it’s very important to watch players because a lot of the stats we have are dependent of what the player does on or with the ball and what a player does off/without the ball which is probably 90% of a players game.   

It’s important to understand a player’s mental capacity as well, we can provide so much information to support the decision but it’s not everything. 

M4: There are a lot of academy’s around the UK and we have a fantastic structure. What happens with these boys and girls that have invested so much time in their football career that are being released from academies? Will this platform help them to potentially find other opportunities, even internationally?  

LH: We’ve got some great success stories in this space. Some of the early transfers we did were with 18- and 19-year olds into Europe to gain football experience. The biggest challenge for any player is the transition from academy football which has now been pushed up to under 23yrs to the men’s football. Even though it’s under 23 people don’t consider that as competitive football because there is nothing on the line. The best players will make it into the first team and the players where there is a little bit of doubt the loan market is used extensively to do that. We’ve given players a lifeline to go and get experience of men’s football had we’ve had some brave youngsters venture from England to foreign leagues to give them just that. The foreign markets can also offer players a lifeline just before they are released. 

This is a personal opinion but one that, I feel, cannot be discounted.  More and more boys and girls are getting the taste of academy football and with this a lesser amount will make it. When you think about it logically, within an academy you are playing in an age group. You are the best player amongst a group of boys all born within the same 12-month period. When a young player is not protected by that age group filter they then have to be one of the best, let’s say 30 players at the entire club.  And with this the player has to dislodge someone with experience and a profile, It’s a massive challenge for any player. Parents and young players have to be aware of that and keep their feet on the ground and realise that is going to happen. 

M4: What I take from that Lee is this platform and the tech supporting the platform is helping young players to get more visibility – have a better opportunity to find their place and the level to get them where they need to be. 

LH: Yes correct, I think there is a natural level for every player, whether that is a level that can sustain a career, that is unknown. 

M4: Do you think this platform will and can assist with the bigger transfers from the bigger clubs? 

LH: We deal with many big clubs in the Premier League;

M4: Can you name a few? 

LH: We have to keep very tight lipped I am afraid;

But if we look at the bigger clubs they are the ones that are developing the most amount of talent and investing the most in their academy’s and these clubs are looking to utilise the loan market or utilise a platform like Player Lens to make sure there is a pathway for the player. Either into their own first team or into a career in football, it’s very much geared to helping clubs like that. And the smaller clubs that are lesser resourced can come to Player Lens to tap into the resources and the overspill from the bigger clubs. 

M4: We have talked about the Lionesses; did you watch the game against Cameroon?

LH: I didn’t but I have heard a lot about it.

M4: Well the less said about that the better! How does the platform support women’s football, because that is going to be huge.  

LH: The Player Lens platform is up and running for Women’s football. I would say we are ahead of the game here as the transfer market isn’t really developed. We have spoken to some big clubs about their transfers but there has not been a big transfer paid yet for any particular female player. I think we are on the cusp of that happening, as more money comes into the women’s game, as it become more popular and it gets more advertising space on TV and as we continue to talk about it more. 

So, these players will become an asset to any club and therefore people will want to acquire these assets to build and strengthen their squads.  I think a liquid transfer market for women is just around the corner. 

M4: That is great news; What is next for technology advancement for Player Lens, you mentioned AI earlier. 

LH: We have to stay on our toes and stay nimble and look for developments inside and outside of football and look to see what we can transition inside a real environment. What we have done with AI and big data is profile players a lot better than we have done before, version one of Player Lens was about finding a left back or a centre forward. Now we can define the style of the left back or centre forward and deliver the clubs a much more define list of what they are looking for a complete profile. 

Like I said before I don’t think it’s going to be everything but at least it gives them a much better starting point to finding the player they are looking for. At the touch of a button or in seconds they will know their budget, the target player and we can deliver a list of results ranked in an order that we have defined to say you should be looking at this guy, which brings efficiency to the market. 

M4: And as technology advances this will give you even greater opportunity to make the platform even more sophisticated. 

My final question for you Lee; what is utopia for the transfer market and the player, who should be the centre of all of this. 

LH: The player needs to know his options and if we come away from the top tier where players have all the options afforded to them to live the lifestyle and earn what they want.  

That difference is the 25,000 transfer every year and within that there are people looking for jobs and security to raise their families. What Player Lens does is give them visibility and choices, someone may be presented with a choice to quit football or do I go and play abroad they can get paid X. So that visibility is a good thing the other thing that tech does it brings down the cost for the user, where we are saving money for the user that money will end up going to the wages of the player so hopefully we will see the players benefiting. 

 M4: Within the football industry technology has already started to play its part on the pitch.  But off the pitch technology will no doubt have a huge part to play in this $8bn+ industry. As big data and AI provides better and more relevant decisions the transfer market is just one area that will be impacted by technology.  Just want to wish the lionesses good luck tonight. This has been another emerging tech talk by me Donavan Whyte @ mad4digtal.