For a few years, Football Index looked to be a genuinely appealing alternative to placing bets with a bookmaker. Part of what made the site so attractive was that there seemed to be so few losers. One customer survey they ran found that just 2% of their players “tended to lose money” on Football Index.
In addition, Football Index seemed to be far more skill-based than traditional betting and really tapped into the popularity of fantasy football. Offering a seemingly “revolutionary” way of placing money on football, parent company BetIndex Ltd knew that if they could advertise the brand effectively, players would sign-up and take part.
Who Were They?
Much has been discussed about the rise and dramatic fall of Football Index. Their rapid collapse sent shockwaves across the industry, partly due to how big the brand was at the time. Around 500,000 customers were impacted by the crash of the self-styled football stock market, with open bets at the time totalling around £124m. Smaller names go bust quite regularly in such a competitive environment but this was a huge name and one that was seemingly thriving for much of its existence.
The significance of Football Index’s collapse was so great that it regularly made it into national news headlines and was the subject of a parliamentary investigation. The major report to be published in response was the ‘Report of the Independent Review of the Regulation of BetIndex Limited’ published in September 2021, should you wish to read its near 200-page findings.
Fingers were very firmly pointed at the Gambling Commission for their role in the chaos and how they were able to licence such an operation. Many accused them of not fully understanding what was being offered, although this point was one that the Gambling Commission CEO regularly disputed.
A Football Player Stock Market
To provide a bit more background about Football Index itself, it was a platform that allowed users or ‘investors’ to buy virtual shares in footballers. Prices of players could rise or fall just like in a real stock market and there were regular dividend payments available, tied to real-life performances. It was something distinctly different to a typical bookmaker experience and it felt much less like gambling and much more like a genuine investment. While there was no securing huge wins in an instant, the value of portfolios would generally increase gradually overtime, making it ideal for the patient spender.
This novel idea, created by Adam Cole, went live in 2015. In just a few years it had accumulated nearly half a million traders and every season hundreds of millions of pounds was being traded on the platform. Although the sky appeared to be the limit for the brand, in March 2021 major alarm bells started ringing as they announced sweeping changes, including the reduction of the maximum dividend payment from 33p to just 6p. Days later Football Index suspended trading and operating company BetIndex had gone into administration. As they say, life comes at you fast.
Football Sponsorship Deals
Part of the reason the Football Index was regularly likened to a pyramid scheme, following its demise, was that it was reliant on a constant stream of new customers and large investments. One former employee said as much in an email revealed to The Guardian. It makes sense, therefore, that Football Index were big on sponsorship as they needed to get their name out there as much as possible to keep customer numbers rising in order to keep paying dividends.
Bristol Rovers (July 2018)
Football Index’s first foray into football shirt sponsorship was relatively low-key and saw them partner up with League One side Bristol Rovers. The Pirates, who had earned successive promotions across 2014/15 and 2015/16, were enjoying life as a stable League One side at this stage.
Interestingly, this was the first time Rovers had sold the front-of-shirt space directly to a business in a decade. Prior to this they were not wearing plain shirts, rather they had adopted a very novel away of finding new sponsors.
The initiative the Pirates launched back in 2009 was to have a ‘draw’ for their sponsorship rights. Local businesses would pay a fee to enter and then a name would be pulled out of the hat to determine which names would feature on which shirt. The top prize was a spot on the home shirt while second place secured their business logo on the away kit. This basically enabled smaller local forms to get an otherwise unaffordable sponsorship deal for a season.
It was a popular idea, which is why it survived for nearly a decade, but obviously the Football Index contract was too good to turn down. There was an added benefit for the club too in that Football Index could not feature on any of the junior kits, due to government regulations. So, Rovers managed to sell the rights for these shirts to Bristol Energy, bringing even more money into the club.
Nottingham Forest (July 2019)
For their next sponsorship deal, Football Index aimed a little higher up the English footballing pyramid, this time looking to the Championship and Nottingham Forest. At the time, Chief Commercial Officer at the club, David Cook, confirmed it was the biggest shirt sponsorship deal in the club’s history. Naturally, he was enthusiastic about the deal and spoke very highly about the “growing and exciting brand” with “pioneering DNA” that was Football Index, comments that have not aged too well.
To help get fans of the club to share some of this enthusiasm, Football Index rolled out an exclusive offer for Forest supporters that were yet to try out the platform. Initially this was just a one-year deal but with both parties satisfied with how it was going, a one-year extension was penned prior to the 2020/21 season. Part of the reason Forest were keen to renew was the additional perks that Football Index had been offering on top of their cash. According to Cook “hundreds of supporters benefit(ted) from prizes such as exclusive hospitality, signed merchandise and money-can’t-buy experiences.”
QPR (August 2020)
As well as renewing their arrangement with Forest in the summer of 2020, Football Index also struck a deal with another Championship side, Queens Park Rangers. The first ‘Football Index’ derby, if you will, took place shortly after on 12th September with QPR running out 2-0 victors. Back to the deal itself though, and it was a again one-year agreement but with an option for a further year extension, something that was never triggered as Football Index had collapsed prior to that point.
When it was clear Football Index were in serious trouble, the west London side announced they would no longer carry the logo on their shirts, effective immediately. Although the sponsorship money had presumably already been paid, Football Index had their licence suspended by this point and continuing to promote such a brand would have reflected poorly on QPR.
Not willing to dwell on the mess too much, QPR CEO Lee Hoos gave a brief statement staying “In light of recent events, the front property of QPR’s home and away strips will no longer sport the Football Index logo.”
On the same day as this official announcement, Rangers confirmed they had a new shirt sponsor, Senate Bespoke, to cover them for the remainder of the season. It was an impressively fast move given that Football Index had only suspended activity a day prior. Nottingham Forest, on the other hand, were not so quick and only announced they had struck a deal with a new company, BOXT, on 2nd April 2021, with just eight games of the season left. Still, every penny counts.