By Ben Fleming
“Every time you put a bet on with a bookie, you’re being played. Become a football trader and take back control.”
Those are the words that still greet a new customer visiting the Football Index ‘About Us’ page for the first time. They brand themselves as ‘the football betting rebellion.’ After the past few days, which has seen users lose thousands of pounds, those statements feel misleading.
The gambling platform claimed to mimic a stock exchange whereby users could buy and sell “shares” in footballers who would then win match day and media “dividends” based on their performance in real-life matches.
However, following a statement by the company on March 5th where they admitted to “substantial losses”, dividends were cut by up to 80% which saw prices tumble and users lose thousands. A share in Bayern Munich star Joshua Kimmich cost £6.73 before the announcement but now is just 84p five days later.
Speaking to Palatinate, Football Index Wetherz, a Football Index content creator and someone who managed to make a full-time living off the platform, said he was “heartbroken.”
“Losing a lot of money would never be easy, but honestly I genuinely think I’m hurting more about being betrayed, manipulated and lied to by a company I loved.”
The crash, which has financially crippled many users such as Wetherz, comes after months of miscommunication, lies and empty promises from Football Index.
In a public statement on October 1st, 2020, the company stated they “never been in a stronger financial position.” In January, the company was looking for a software engineer, offering a £90,000 salary and again claiming, “we have a strong product attracting hundreds of thousands of users in the UK.”
As late as February, leaked private messages with the company’s customer service team show them telling users they were “in a strong financial position.” Even up until Friday’s announcement, the company was still minting shares on new players, something which Wetherz feels is “absolutely unforgivable.”
Promises of a deal with American stock exchange NASDAQ, plans to expand the userbase to Germany and market makers to ensure liquidity all failed to materialise, whilst the botched introductions of order books and market depth lead to many people losing trust in the platform and its eventual stagnation and collapse this past week.
Over the last few days, Palatinate has been speaking to other prominent users and content creators on the platform who further explained where it all went wrong for the platform.
Football MDJ, who has a popular sports gambling blog, said “the biggest mistake was removing instant sell when COVID-19 hit, something that the platform publicly claimed it would never do.”
“They were nowhere near ready to implement order books at this point and gave traders no notice of this change. From that point onwards, traders could no longer easily withdraw their money, vastly increasing their risk on the platform. Prices were pushed up to an unsustainable level and Football Index we’re never in a position to turn it back on. Traders were trapped and they were trapped.”
Another former Football Index content creator and user told Palatinate Football Index’s biggest mistake was ‘their lack of transparency and charisma.”
“They couldn’t build a narrative and keep the community onside to save their lives. They were consistently not transparent with customers, and if they had been, people who have understood a lot more and had more patience and empathy.”
Perhaps one of the biggest areas of contention for the platform has been its marketing and brand language. Users on the platform have often been referred to as “traders”, whether that be in official TV adverts or written statements on Twitter and their website.
Combined with the use of stock market terminology such as “portfolio”, “shares”, and “dividends”, the company ultimately tried to create a false perception that this was different to a traditional gambling experience.
The company was penalised because of this, in 2019, by the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) for an advert that created the impression it “was an investment opportunity when that was not the case.”
However, as Football MDJ notes, whilst they “reverted to talking about bets [rather than shares], the perception of this being a ‘safer’ platform remained.”
Harry Trades, another Football Index content creator on YouTube, said Football Index’s “biggest mistake was lying to their loyal customer base [on this issue].”
“People would of, for sure, overextended their deposit amounts off the back of thinking it is an investment when in reality it’s no different to placing a bet with Bet365 or Sky Bet.”
Unfortunately, the future remains very unclear for the many who have lost so much. The platform is still operating meaning users are either forced to sell their bets at a vastly reduced price or wait to see it the platform will revive itself.
It is, as of yet, unclear whether the UK Gambling Commission is investigating although the regulator has no legal power to order consumer redress, only to fine the company. This would leave customers forced to go through court settlements themselves to get money back.
However, as Football Index Wetherz explained, “Football Index seem pretty well protected by their Terms & Conditions and the outdated gambling laws.”
Gambling has for too long been under-regulated and this incident serves as yet another chilling reminder of the potential consequences of such inaction. Something needs to change. But, whether it will, remains to be seen.