By John Zielonka
Last month, the Seattle Sounders announced that they would be the first MLS club to install and use the ProScout7 scouting and recruitment management system. Based in Birmingham, England, Scout7 is the world’s leading provider of scouting and recruitment management solutions to professional football clubs and national football associations. Current clients number close to 100 and include world class clubs such as: Ajax, Celtic, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Olympique Lyonnais, PSV Eindhoven, Rangers, FC Schalke 04, Sevilla, TSG Hoffenheim and Villarreal.
The Sounders plan to use the system to identify and monitor prospects all over the world. The key to the Scout7 solution is the largest player database in the world. This allows each team to input target player data and notes in a secure and online environment.
Goal.com interviewed Lee Jamison, the Scout7 Managing Director, to understand how their software could provide the Sounders a competitive edge, his view of scouting and recruitment in North America, and future product development areas.
John Zielonka: Why are you excited about the Sounders embracing your solution and your first foray into the North American football market?
Lee Jamison: We view the Seattle Sounders and the MLS market as critical to us because we feel it will embrace and evolve over the years in this sport. The exposure in North America could also lead to expansion to other sports and new market opportunities for us.
Can you briefly explain what is unique about the Scout7 solution?
Our system is simple and based on common sense. It is an informational database that takes a club’s greatest assets through a decision-making process.
How is football different in terms of scouting and recruitment players compared to other sports?
Most clubs who currently do scouting and recruitment do so on a whim or what they’ve heard through the grapevine. Football is not statistically driven like baseball, cricket or American football. To evaluate talent it requires subjective questions to address specific objectives. As clubs become more informed, knowledgeable and dynamic when it comes to recruitment, research now becomes more proactive and modern. The smarter clubs will end up with the better players.
Can you provide details on how the system works?
We have two key elements to ProScout7. We have objective and subjective components that provide the clubs the opportunity to: Create an objective statistical reference that captures match information for use by both senior club staff and the regional scouts they employ. Clubs can verify the data when in touch with an agent to ensure the information is accurate. Clubs can be proactive in their searches for players. We create a professional workflow. This concept is foreign to football. This is crucial since stability does not exist in football, with managers and scouts coming and going all the time from club to club. Their focus is on the short-term. Recruitment and scouting are done haphazardly.
What about the subjective element?
Clubs can do their own research. They can store and manage their own data in whatever form suits their own needs. Advanced teams use the system extensively. Scouts are provided with a disciplined approach to judging and documenting a player. Subjective elements are very important. We also are consultants to clubs and help them in building their scouting and recruitment database. The system will allow the club’s senior management staff to monitor the progress of both established and emerging talent across the world through the largest player database in world football. In addition, they can manage their own report information and personal notes on specific targets centrally and securely online.
In your earlier response, you mentioned the short term focus of managers and how quickly they come and go. How do you address this issue from a recruiting and scouting perspective?
The issue become more pervasive when the manager and, usually, chief scout leave. All of their knowledge and information leaves if it is not captured. Typically the chief scout in English football reports to the head coach or manager. The sport of football is not technology driven. Scouts, those who have been around 30-40 years, have never used a computer before. If a team reduced their squad size by one and invested in scouting or recruitment technology, the returns would be phenomenal. In most instances, it’s not about who the club brings in, but who it didn’t bring in.
What about the MLS? How does it differ compared to the other leagues?
MLS in general does not do much direct scouting. The MLS recruits primarily in the South American market. This is where the MLS is focused in recruiting South American players. Money and agents are always an issue. The more the MLS adopts a professional approach to scouting and recruiting, the sooner the league will elevate its status globally. Our world database uses statistics from over 130 countries monitoring over 80,000 players. We use a statistical model that uses over 30 correspondents who enter the statistics. The MLS can’t recruit all over the world the way Chelsea can.
What’s your take on how a team like the Sounders or the MLS can take advantage of your solution?
The challenge for the MLS is its reliance on a network of scouts, which can be haphazardly done. With our system you have the ability to link a scout’s report to statistical information. This allows a club to rank and identify how good the scouts are in their player assessments. Differing opinions from several scouts monitoring the same player can be challenging. If you have a database to capture these perspectives, we provide consistency in scouting to analyze and validate their reports. The system appears to be comprehensive in its capabilities and functionality.
If I’m a new client, how do I get the appropriate guidance and support?
We provide structure, a plan that’s adapted and tweaked to each club’s unique needs. We give them standard reports and a player assessment template. We pass on best practices and natural responsibilities to the club. We’re successful in our consulting because we are well liked and have excellent relationships with our customers. The human element is always in the forefront.
What’s in the future for your system?
We are planning to do more in helping clubs in assessing players. This will be launched mid-2009. We aren’t sure how this will fit into the MLS. European clubs are the best of the best. The American model, with the salary cap, etc. is different. We are in the process of rewriting the system to make better use of statistics. We want to take the first level of data to provide clubs the ability to objectively rank players and teams. For example, Mike Forde, Performance Director from Chelsea is someone who is intrigued by the objective model.
Any new solutions that you’re working on?
We have working on a new product called Pro Squad7. This is similar to Scout7, but differs in that it’s focused on a recruitment module for schoolboys and schoolgirls. We will have a blank database for boys and girls to start the monitoring of younger players and their potential recruitment by clubs. The squad management system will monitor injuries, development etc. of younger players.
Video is becoming a key area of growth in technology. What are you doing in this area?
Leading edge things include a partner technology called Xeatre. They capture live football broadcasts all over the world. Clubs can then legitimately subscribe to all the games, record them and allow their scouts to watch many games simultaneously without leave their homes. The MLS, for example, that has few scouts, this would be highly effective in the recruitment and scouting of players. We plan to work with Xeatre and incorporate them into our product offering.
What about other sports?
We are also looking to branch out to other sports. We’re still evaluating what the opportunity is for us to act as consultants and a technology house for other sports and feel that we have lots of ideas and possibilities. Professional football is still our primary market. We still need to do more research before be proceed to other areas.
You’re currently based in England, any plans of establishing yourself in North America?
As for US expansion, it will be dictated by what we hear. We could have a US operation in the next 12 months. In Europe, we still focus on professional football. Our key markets are: Germany, Holland, France and UK. We have 85% market share in the top Leagues of those countries. Spain and Italy are other growth opportunities for us.
John Zielonka is the Goal.com correspondent in Seattle, Washington.