We’re not in Kansas anymore…

After yesterday’s announcement, I feel a blog is in order. Writing this will help me to crystalise my thoughts and perhaps might help people to understand why I’m not particularly in love with FI right now. Clue: it’s not about the dividends.

I think most of us realised that this wasn’t going to be a huge dividend uplift. In my head, I was planning for around 40%. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic and a worldwide recession is likely to follow so we know they need to be prudent.

The continual talk of FI being a ‘Tier 1’ operator also rang some alarm bells for me. A lot of people saw this as a positive but without any real thought to what it actually means. I think we now know that it means more scrutiny, more caution in their approach. That’s the trade-off as we move from playing fast and loose with a ‘start up’ operation to playing with one of the big boys of the gambling world. You swallow additional risk on the basis of greater rewards. As products mature past that whirlwind start up period, you know that the rewards are likely to reduce too.

And this is the reason why I’m a bit miffed about what’s happening on the platform at the moment. They can’t have it both ways – either they are a ‘rough around the edges’ risky new product, or they are a polished, steady, long-term operator. I feel like we’re playing with the worst of both worlds at the moment.

I’ve been on here for nearly 3 years now and I’ve only seen a marginal improvement in the comms and tech. These two things should be the bedrock of the platform but they are both regularly found wanting. Yesterday’s 5pm announcement came 15 minutes late. The platform crashed when it was turned back on at 5.30pm. If these were one off events, neither would bother me but this is an ongoing issue and it just shouldn’t be happening anymore.

They say they’ve been testing IPOs on their new ‘more stable’ platform and are confident that previous issues have been resolved. After the crash yesterday, and the limp IPOs that have had little or no demand between them, why should we believe them? This is a tech team that put out an app update that changed loss figures to green last time (did they not test that too?).

The comms is another thing. My word, I could write a whole essay on this! Part of the reason for the deflated reaction from traders yesterday was because of the FI comms ahead of the announcement. There’s been some really unhelpful comms lately, starting with the Q&A that sucked confidence out of the market a few weeks ago. We were given the carrot of a £1bn market cap alongside the news that pooled liquidity was now looking highly unlikely. There was the announcement that never was, leading to the social media guy (or girl?) getting thrown under the bus, and then some fairly basic errors in the approach to the announcement itself.

Don’t tell us that you are excited to show us the new dividend table which is both ‘generous’ and ‘sensible’. Tell us that you have to show caution at the moment and that you would like to have offered more, and will do when you are able to, but for now we need to be patient. Be honest with us, that’s all we ask.

And please, please proof-read your stuff. Not only did the new dividend table initially go out with two mistakes in it but some eagle-eyed traders focused on the Opta comment and swiftly followed that up with customer service. This was the response (h/t @FootballIndexSB):

Again, if this was a one-off thing I wouldn’t mind, but the lack of understanding about the product within the FI team is something we’ve seen on multiple occasions. On the day of the announcement itself, we found out that one of the points on the matrix (blocked shots) has been either wrongly titled as a defensive action, or FI have been using the wrong feed for it, since the Performance Matrix was launched (h/t @dryoffyourcheek). This doesn’t feel very ‘tier 1’ to me.

The lack of understanding of the platform appears to have played out in the decisions they took when designing the new dividend table. Goalkeepers? Great. But they don’t need their own category at this juncture in the life of FI – there just aren’t enough of them competing (especially on Bronze days) to make that logical. Stick them in the TOTM payouts for now and see how it goes – that would have been ‘sensible yet generous’.

I have to say, TOTM is a great addition to the platform and I’ve got no issues with that at all. I hope that FI have plans to launch some kind of live tracking of this as soon as possible, just as there is for other dividends. I fear that this hasn’t been planned yet and might arrive some time in 2021 – which says something about my thoughts on the tech set up.

Things like that do matter you know. Imagine the additional buzz we’d have on game days if they’d have managed to implement instant notifications for goals and assists on IPD holds? But that’s another one on the ever growing to-do list.

The failure to increase IPDs, even by just 1p on goals, is a missed opportunity to boost the bottom end by the way. I can see that they wanted to give goalkeepers some value because they were worried that there were lots of players on the platform that were virtually worthless. I think they’ve overcharged goalkeepers at the expense of other lower-end players, especially given that TOTM tips the balance further towards the premium end as well.

But actually, the biggest own goal for me is that they’ve extended commission-free bidding until the end of September. That is absolute madness – an act of self-harm to the platform. Why on earth do they think they need to stimulate bidding? The issue is the spreads and the fact that the sell offers haven’t been built into the platform yet. This will surely only make things worse.

This is a trading platform yet we are struggling to trade. I know this is a transitional phase but let’s be honest – it’s bonkers. It’s also not a lot of fun, being trapped in this weird sort of ‘Prisoner’s dilemma’. Movement is happening still but it’s all hidden in the bids, so the platform itself is flat (aside from the obvious rockets like Greenwood).

I’m really concerned about the introduction of the next phase. It’s been in the planning stages for a long while now (we were shown screenshots of their first iteration of the order book around 2 years ago) and I’m starting to wonder what’s really going on. What are Nasdaq really doing? Do they have the sell side ready to launch right away as claimed? Hmmm…

I do have some sympathy for them here. Without COVID, there’s no way they would have introduced the Matching Engine so quickly and, in all fairness, I can only commend them for the way they dealt with things during that period, including boosting the market with increased media days. But there’s no going back now. The ‘portfolio figure’ in our ports is complete nonsense now and most of us know that there will be a day of reckoning when the full order book comes in. Yes, spreads will probably narrow but only by the sell price decreasing, rather than the buy price increasing. It will be painful.

That will also be the point that traders realise that the price mechanics have completely changed. It will be trader versus trader from this point forward. We set the prices. Some of us need to lose for others to win. This is absolutely fantastic for FI as a company – the only money that leaves the platform now is whatever they choose to give us in dividends so their liability is massively reduced – but it’s a huge adjustment for us and the days of easy money are surely gone.

I’m sure they will sweeten the pill. There will be some market makers to help with the spreads and they’ll give us a juicy deposit bonus to mask the drop in our portfolio values, but eventually we will have to adjust and decide if we still want to play the game. For those of us that don’t see ourselves as experts, some of that will come down to whether we have confidence in the people who are running the platform and, ultimately, whether we enjoy playing it. Currently both of those things aren’t riding high for me.

On that note, I think some of this is because I enjoyed the earlier days of FI so much. ‘Veteran’ traders might find these changes harder to process, even if we knew this was coming. FI has been like a friend to us, offering us easy money and demanding very little in return – newer traders haven’t experienced this (and also may not be aware of how long the comms and tech problems have been going on).

My quick straw poll on twitter seems to back this up:

I wonder how much they listen to traders now. The recent survey irked me a little because it’s really not that long since they did a media survey that we never saw the results of – where did it go? I don’t recall any questions about goalkeepers in the recent survey either and I noted that they only showed us the answers they wanted us to see. Traders do notice these things.

I’ve no doubt that they’ll be scratching their heads, or perhaps annoyed, that traders haven’t been happier with the increases they’ve offered us. It’s absolutely right that we should be grateful that we are seeing any increases at all in such a difficult period but if times are tough, it seems to make little sense to put more focus on changing the value of our bets than increasing them. It makes little sense to offer a relatively small increase to existing match day dividends, and even less to media, whilst also extending a commission-free period and killing trading. These decisions don’t add up for me.

We’re all investing in the platform itself as much as we are investing in the players. Some of us are very emotionally invested in it too. I know I am – I acknowledge that. I know that makes me a ‘bad trader’ – never trade with emotion and all that jazz.

But actually, if I wasn’t emotionally invested, I wouldn’t be here. For some strange reason, we’ve been taught to care about this platform in a way that we would never care about a traditional bookie. That actually did fit quite well with the pseudo-Ponzi set up I suppose – the more we love it, the more we try to bring others into it and we all win. FI wanted us to be in love with them and they’ve carried us along on that journey. They shouldn’t be surprised if some of us respond with high emotions now.

The order book removes any trace of the Ponzi from FI. Many will rejoice about that but I won’t. I enjoyed my time loving this platform and telling others about how life-changing it was, knowing full well that I would also benefit if they joined in. Life is dog-eat-dog enough already, I’m not looking forward to that side of things on FI. If not for COVID, I’m sure we could’ve carried on for longer with things the way they were – we’d only really scratched the surface for growth in the UK.

This is me speaking honestly. I know I’ll get stick for this but I don’t feel the need to defend the platform any longer. Whether new users get turned off or not doesn’t really matter anymore – our money is already trapped so FI aren’t going to go under. I’m writing this only to try to explain why I feel the way I feel. It’s not ‘entitlement’ and I didn’t want a 100% dividend uplift. I just want a coherent, competent product that I can believe in and enjoy, love even. Call me irrational if you will but if FI want to attract enough ‘fish’ to the platform in the future, they’ll need to keep hold of the likes of me too.

2 thoughts on “We’re not in Kansas anymore…

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