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Measuring the damage done by Football Index

Measuring the damage done by Football Index

Football Index was billed as a smart, innovative way to gamble on football. When it collapsed it caused not just heartache but financial ruin as well.


Transcript

Hi, I’m Chloe, and this is The Playmaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world of football. 

Today, the collapse of Football Index.

***

“This is Football Index. Bet on the football stock market by buying shares in the world’s top players. Will you rise to the challenge? Will your players rise in value? Will you win dividends along the way? Build your portfolio with shares in the world’s top players and become a football trader. What’s your football knowledge worth?”

Football Index advert

Football Index was launched in October 2015. 

It was billed as a new way to bet on football, by buying “shares” in footballers on a pseudo-stock market that Football Index had created. If shares in your footballer went up, you could sell them for a profit. 

The idea was to build a portfolio of players that could be sold for more than the purchase price if their value went up. You could claim bonus payments in the way of dividends too. 

It was seen as exciting, dynamic and a real alternative to traditional sports betting. 

It attracted football fans like Adam. He’s a former trader with Football Index and a keen member of the community that built up around the product.

“It did show every sign of being a very innovative, up and coming business early on. If you judge it by its actions, it was making long-term moves – investments and funded things that were real and not just stories.”

Interview with Adam

And the important thing to point out is that this was no small operation. There were adverts on the radio, online, in Tube stations and even on TV. 

Bristol Rovers, Nottingham Forest and Queens Park Rangers all advertised Football Index on their shirts. The commentator John Motson appeared in promotions.

But the house of cards came crashing down when the Gambling Commission suspended the licence of BetIndex, the company responsible for Football Index, in March this year. 

Administrators were appointed. An estimated £90 million was lost by traders. Football Index only had £11.4 million in assets at the time. 

Remember the advert talking about having that “football knowledge”? For some, that meant they lost much more than money.

Let’s go back to Adam, whom we just met. 

A former civil servant, he was a real Football Index devotee, and even created his own website to give out information to others about trading.

He says that in his experience, the community was full of smart, professional people. 

And, just like many others, Adam lost money when the company collapsed. 

But how did this happen? 

Adam tells us that in the early years of the company, things often seemed to be going very well. There were awards, and those big advertising campaigns. 

Covid was a big shock to everything related to football, but the company appeared to be sticking around for the long haul. 

But then traders began to worry that things were amiss. 

“I think the final six months were a different story. I think there’s a series of increasingly reckless decisions, like doubling the payouts at a time when they knew that they were financially unstable at that stage. What is the difference between that and a scam if they are desperately trying to pull money into a market that they knew was not healthy?”

Interview with Adam

And it’s not just a financial issue either. It’s had devastating consequences for people. 

“Sadly I know that lives have been turned upside down, ruined. People not just losing money, but also their pride, their health, their wellbeing. I’ve seen relationships break down because of it. I’ve seen people say their marriages have ended. It’s not just the money. For many it’s the embarrassment of feeling that they’ve been duped, betrayed.”

Interview with Adam

Last week, the government published a long-awaited independent report into the regulation of Football Index. 

Adam, like many others, is hoping this is the next step on the road to recovering some of the money. 

He says he knows people who have lost life-changing sums of money – some even over a million pounds. 

The report revealed that the Gambling Commission were not quick enough to scrutinise and respond to the challenges presented by BetIndex. That’s even though BetIndex themselves did not make the necessary declarations. 

Football Index wasn’t under the remit of the top financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority.. But the report says, there are also lessons they could learn over how they could have intervened.

But none of this repairs the damage done to those who have lost so much as a result of the Football Index collapse. 

The next step for them, according to their group action, is to make MPs aware of the situation, and hope that the government and the gambling industry will step in to clean up this mess.

There’s no guarantee that Adam and the others will ever get their money back.

If you’ve been affected by the issues raised in this podcast, you can contact MIND for mental health support on 0300 123 3393 or Samaritans free on 116 123.

Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford and produced by Xavier Greenwood.