Post last updated in December 2020
With four fairly new football gambling/trading products on the market now, I thought it might be useful to do a little compare and contrast piece, seeing as I’m using all of them. Three of them pitch themselves as an alternative to the traditional bookies. The other, Sorare, is slightly different but the general principles (and communities) overlap a great deal so it makes sense to include it here.
This is not a recommendation of where to put your money and it’s my opinion based on my own usage of the products so, as always, do your own research before you commit. I’m also going to try to keep this reasonably short and sweet, rather than an inside-out analysis of each product.
Football index – the original GAME CHANGER
Firstly, Football Index (FI), the most established platform. Founded in 2015, this company now has over 5 years of experience and has had the time to refine the product and develop awareness of the brand. The app and website outstrip most the competitors in terms of speed and functionality and depositing and withdrawing cash is generally quick and straightforward. In 2019, FI announced a link-up with Nasdaq, demonstrating the ambition of the team to grow and evolve the product even further.
FI is a pure trading platform with no other bells and whistles. It seeks to emulate the stock market with traders investing in football players, rather than traditional stocks and shares. Players can be ‘bought’ across all leagues and nationalities, although coverage is patchy outside of the 5 main leagues and there are still some key players missing in the main leagues too. There are essentially two ways to earn money – through capital appreciation and through dividends. FI is also pretty generous with deposit bonuses and giveaways, especially during the quieter periods like the summer break.
The price mechanics of the platform have recently changed. FI introduced an order book system earlier in the year, making things almost entirely peer-to-peer. There are two ways to buy and sell players. Buying or selling instantly at the market price or putting in a sell offer or bid to pitch above or below that price. There is some visibility of market depth to help traders target a strategy of trading within the spread (the difference between the buy and sell price), picking up players via low-ball offers and selling on as their spread closes.
(Note that previous to the order book structure, prices movements functioned a bit like each player being an individual pyramid scheme, with around 900 shares purchased moving the listed price of the player up by 1p (or 900 shares being listed to market dropping the price by 1p). This meant that as FI grew its reach, all traders benefited (‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ as they say). For this reason, most traders have profited handsomely from the platform during its developmental phase).
The introduction of order books was poorly managed and prices on the platform have suffered as a result. The average price of the top 100 players has dropped by around 45% in the 3 months between September and December, hurting traders with established portfolios.
As of 27th December 2020, the cost of one share in a player ranges between 7p and £7.09 at market price, with most of the top players having a spread of under 25%. At the lower end, it’s not uncommon to see spreads in excess of 50% with out of favour players sometimes having no sell price at all. This has increased the risk on the platform considerable as traders can no longer guarantee a ‘cash out’ option at any time, meaning that dividend yield is more important now than ever.
Dividends come direct from FI (funded by 2% commission on sales and on bids) and reward the best players each match day for their actions in a match or for receiving media coverage that day. As there are now over 3000 players on the platform, winning dividends is difficult, if not impossible, but yields are good. The dividend matrix for match day dividends is reasonably logical, although with a big emphasis on ‘game winning goals’ to ensure the winners aren’t too predictable. The mechanics for winning media are not really tailored to football, sometimes leading to odd results, however the media dividends do keep things alive during periods where games are not being played meaning this really is a year-round betting platform. A ‘team of the month’ dividend gives additional ways to win for players who keep getting pipped to the post for match day dividends and in-play dividends were introduced in 2018 to give new traders a taste of winning early on – players are eligible for dividends for goals and assists (plus clean sheets for goalkeepers) for the first 30 days after they were purchased.
FI have indicated that their work with Nasdaq is not yet complete and it’s clear that the current iteration of order books, and accompanying lack of liquidity, is dampening any organic growth on the platform. Compared to the earlier stages of FI, it’s certainly much tougher to ‘win big’ on the platform but the dividends prevent it from ever becoming a completely zero-sum game. The path of change is never an easy one and the platform has seen some serious dips in confidence (and prices) recently as traders try to get to grips with the new mechanics. This could actually be a good time for new traders to get involved, unburdened by the history of the platform and with prices far lower than they’ve been for many months.
FI is a medium-risk, complicated, slow burner and takes time to get the hang of but the pay-off can be good, if you have the patience. The game rules allow shares to be held for up to 3 years (although this isn’t being enforced at the moment) making FI a unique platform where your bet genuinely isn’t over at the final whistle.
Footstock – injecting some fun into DFS
Footstock (FS) entered the field in April 2019 after 3 years in development and an Indiegogo fundraising campaign. Taking bits from DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports) platforms, FIFA Ultimate Team , trading and casinos, it’s got a big emphasis on being a fun platform with virtual ‘games’ complementing the usual DFS stuff. FS was developed by a couple of football fans, rather than a corporate team, leading to it feeling a bit raw and in need of some refinement but customer service and responsiveness is about as good as it gets. Access was initially via the website only but an app was launched in early 2020. Payments and withdrawals are processed quickly and efficiently.
FS operates a stock market, based on a simplified order book system, from which you can buy players from other traders and use those players in tournament games to win money. You can also buy players directly from FS via random packs (similar to FIFA Ultimate Team), via Dutch auction (for new additions to the platform) or try to win them via ‘roulette’, which is basically top trumps against another trader. Player cards don’t expire and can be used multiple times, although can’t be used in more than one tournament at the same time. FS do not charge any commission on trades and make their money from pack sales and entry fees for the ‘games’ part of the product.
The game is largely based around the EPL but has recently started to encompass Champions League and Europa League games and players. There are various generous freeroll tournaments, including a season-long £100k freeroll, plus paid tournaments ranging from £1 up to around £20 per entry. Players are rated on a star system based on the points they’ve scored previously and most tournaments come with restrictions about star rating of players that can be entered, in an attempt to level the playing field between traders. The scoring mechanism for tournaments is straightforward and visible in play. Tournaments are the key money-maker for traders on FS but this relies on having the cards to enter them so a fair amount of initial outlay is needed if you really want to compete across multiple games – although the recent introduction of one and two card tournaments is a potential route in for those on a budget.
The team responded quickly to the COVID-19 crisis by introducing virtual tournaments – simulated matches based on historical game data and a sprinkling of chance. Alongside the tournaments, which start at a predetermined time with an unlimited number of entries, they also introduced ‘virtual battles’, a type of instant tournament, limited to a small entry pool. Adding the virtuals was a smart move, exploiting an obvious gap in the market, and kicked off a period of growth in April and May 2020. The current market cap (value of existing cards) is close to £5 million.
Making money through trading player cards is possible, if you have the time for it. The order book system works well, spreads are generally very tight and there is enough liquidity for most trades to be matched in a reasonable amount of time. There is an instant sell option if you needed to quickly liquidate your portfolio but the value is deliberately set to be some way below the market value, therefore an unattractive option. Prices can fluctuate quickly and dramatically at times, which can be a shock to new traders.
Most players are bought and sold via the market now as this allows you to target the players you want and also the cost of packs is often far above the value of the cards they contain. Player values have seen exponential growth in 2020 and cards currently range in price from around 28p to over £150. Packs range from £6.99 to £99.99 and include tournament entry coupons. In due course, new players will be introduced to the platform via auctions, rather than packs, adding some extra excitement and encouraging players to reach a realistic price level more quickly.
The chief concern about the platform is the number of player cards in circulation and how this is managed. The value of a card is linked to its rarity so as more packs are opened and more traders join the platform, FS have to carefully manage the distribution of cards to ensure that high priced cards can hold their value and not flood the market. FS are attempting to rebalance things by introducing card holding limits and buying back cards from the market when new packs are purchased. This feels a very positive step in the development of the platform.
The product feels a lot more like gambling than something like Football Index, largely due to the luck/risk involved in things like purchasing packs and playing roulette (although the future of the side games is unclear at the moment). The tournaments too can be tough to win, especially when you are playing against established traders with large collections to pick from, and the additional entry fee for tournaments can quickly build up.
The user experience can be a bit clunky at times but has improved a great deal since launch. The developers recently launched a new version of the app which is cleaner but lacks some of the key features. A recent big marketing campaign, fronted by Chris Kamara, could be the turning point for this platform with a wave of enthusiasm behind it and considerable potential for growth.
sportstack – spread betting revolutionised
SportStack (SS) is a more recent addition to the field, going live in November 2019. Set up by two former Goldman Sachs senior professionals, SS is a spread betting platform where traders bet on the performance of an individual footballer in an individual match. The app looks slick and includes performance stats but there’s no option to play via the web. Deposits and withdrawals are smooth and pain-free.
SS is a zero-sum game – for one trader to win, another has to lose. Traders place a buy order (go long) on players they expect to perform well or place a sell order (go short) on players they think will under-perform. SS operates an order book system that is designed to be peer-to-peer but there are underlying ‘market makers’ providing enough liquidity to ensure that the order books work while there are only a small number of traders on the platform in the early days.
The buying and selling actions of other traders cause the prices to fluctuate in the run up to the match and during the match itself, so there are plenty of opportunities to cash out at any time. Bets on players named on the bench are voided when the line ups come out and then reopen as a lower substitute price.
If a trader holds a player until the end of the match, the final payout is calculated based on a scoring matrix, with the scores being shown in real time on the app. The payout ranges from a minimum of 0p to a maximum of 100p, with most payouts seemingly ranging between 30p and 70p (starting a match gains a player 25p, so this is effectively the base score). This is obviously a ‘safer’ option than a simple ‘win/lose’ bet as you are unlikely to lose your full stake – however you can win or lose big in SS, easily doubling or halving your stake in one match. SS make their money by charging 4% commission on winning bets.
SS have recently added a new function to the platform, ‘SuperStack’ which is effectively a straight bet on one player being the best performer of the game for a fixed odds payout. I would expect more markets along these lines to be added in the future.
Unlike the aforementioned platforms, SS wasn’t in a position to offer anything after COVID-19 prematurely ended the football season. This undoubtedly hampered the momentum of the product but they used to time to work on one of their key ambitions – a ‘Careers’ platform that allowed people to bet on the performance of a player over their whole career.
The Careers app had some similarities to Football Index, but without the 3-year limit on holds and with a simpler dividend structure and lifted straight from the original iteration of SportStack. This only launched in November 2020 and was abruptly pulled on 23rd December 2020 due to concerns about the most appropriate regulatory framework for the platform.
SS is a new company but is developing fast and the team have big ambitions. The set back posed by the failure to launch the Careers platform is unlikely to dampen this and I fully expect them to try something similar again in 2021 (perhaps time-limited holds?). Definitely one to watch.
SORARE – GLOBAL FANTASY FOOTBALL MEETS BLOCKCHAIN
Sorare is a slightly different beast to the previously mentioned platforms but is well worth a look. Not classed (or regulated) as a gambling platform, this is a global fantasy football game where you can buy, trade and play with official digital player cards.
Sorare is a French company and has some big backers. Developed in 2018, they’ve got the backing of Ubisoft and Andre Schurrle, as well as several million dollars in seed-funding. The basic premise seems to be to create the Panini sticker experience of the 21st century – using blockchain instead of physical cards.
Unlike the blind process of opening a sticker pack (or a Footstock pack), cards come up for auction on the site so you can choose exactly who you want to buy. Auctions run throughout the day and night, with card supply strictly limited across different tiers – Rare, Super Rare and Unique. You can also buy cards directly from other managers (users) for a premium.
Sorare has to obtain official licenses for players before issuing cards and started out with the Belgium league, the J League and MLS so expect to see players that you might not be familiar with at first. The platform is expanding rapidly and now has over 100 licensed clubs, including big-hitters like Juventus, Bayern Munich, PSG and Real Madrid, adding to the mainstream appeal (and bringing new managers on board directly as clubs promote Sorare to their own fanbase).
There are two ways to make money on Sorare – you can flip cards for profit on the secondary market or you can enter them into 5-a-side tournaments, called SO5, that give you a shot of winning more cards or some crypto rewards. These run twice a week and across various different levels and leagues so there’s plenty to keep you interested. The scoring matrix is fairly straight forward and recent changes have been aimed at simplifying the scoring. It’s worth noting that Sorare is primarily a game, rather than a trading platform, so flipping cards for profit is hard, although not impossible.
The platform currency is Ethereum (ETH), a crypto currency. This helps to make Sorare a truly global game but does bring it’s own challenges in getting set up and past the first hurdle of depositing money into the platform. Sorare recently made this easier for managers by allowing transactions in a user’s native currency, through a partnership with Ramp.
Most Rare cards can be picked up for less that 0.075 ETH (around £37 at the time of writing) but some go for much more than this. Stepping up to the Super Rare and Unique categories requires a bit of a bankroll, with a typical Super Rare setting you back 0.5 ETH (£250) and perhaps 2.5 ETH (£1,250) for a Unique. These prices can be off putting for new users and Sorare will need to give some thought to how to stop people being priced out of the game.
Sorare has been on a steep growth curve since the spring of 2020, and recently added Gerard Piqué to its list of backers, but is still a very young product with just under 3,000 managers on the platform. With more clubs due to be added in the coming months, I think 2021 could be a huge year for Sorare so there’s probably no better time to be involved than now.
But which one is right for you?
There’s no reason why traders can’t enjoy all four platforms but this is where I think their various strengths lie:
- Football Index – takes some time to learn so best for those who like research and are prepared to be in it for the long haul. The most established platform with arguably the best overall earning potential but requires a lot of patience – there are no big, sudden windfalls and the risk of losing money is far greater than it was previously. Just as much earning potential during the off-season as during the season so very much a year round thing. Use my sign up link (and enter the code 83226 on the sign up form where prompted) for a bonus £10 and try it out risk-free for 7 days.
- FootStock – still a little rough round the edges but good fun for those who are really into DFS and are prepared to stick with it for while (not so good for just dipping a toe into). Will probably appeal most to those with an FPL background rather than a betting background. Virtual tournaments and casino-style games give it appeal all year round. Potential for big returns but be aware that it’s probably as easy to lose money on this as it is to win. Use my sign up link to start with 50 bonus player cards and £25 in tournament coupons.
- SportStack – likely to appeal if you’ve got a spread betting background and/or don’t want the time commitment of Football Index. Probably the easiest of the four to jump straight into if you have a betting background but the losses can potentially be higher than on the other platforms. It’s a relatively new product and it’s still unclear how they will maintain interest off-season and whether they can sustain sufficient liquidity. Use my sign up link to get 6 free shares when you sign up.
- Sorare – if you enjoy collecting football stickers or playing fantasy football, and you can get your head around the crypto side of things, this could be the game for you. It doesn’t demand a lot of time and is really enjoyable but be prepared to start off with at least £250 if you really want to get stuck into it. Use my sign up link to start with 10 free Common cards and get a free Rare card once you’ve bought your first team.
That’s my take so far. If you’ve got any questions about any of the above, give me a shout. Likewise, if you disagree with anything I’ve written, get in touch and tell me! There’s a friendly community surrounding each platform (with a fair bit of overlap as you might expect), including active Slack and Discord channels – a pretty good place to go for more advice if you’re just starting out.