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The importance of social return on investment


How beneficial can football be for an individual, a community or even a country? This is something the UEFA GROW SROI (social return on investment) model is attempting to answer.

Women's grassroots football
Women's grassroots football ©UEFA.com

Football has numerous benefits on and off the pitch. It helps keep people fit and teaches a person important life skills; it is also a form of entertainment loved by millions throughout the world. How beneficial, then, can football be for an individual, a community or even a country? This is something the UEFA GROW SROI (social return on investment) model is attempting to answer.

Launched in 2015, the UEFA GROW programme has become the central business development platform to help national associations throughout Europe grow the game in a systematic and strategic manner. UEFA GROW offers tailor-made consultation services to UEFA’s member associations in a range of different sectors.

Seven associations are involved in the SROI programme
Seven associations are involved in the SROI programme©UEFA.com

UEFA GROW has adapted the SROI model to include grassroots football, with a view to assessing the impact that the sport has on any particular country. The focus is on four key fields – economic, social, health and high performance (in football) – to ascertain the impact that mass participation in football has had in these areas. Finally, a monetary value is placed on the proven benefits in the first three of these fields. 

There are currently seven UEFA member associations involved in the UEFA GROW SROI programme. Collectively, they have 10.6m registered players, which has led to a combined €6.35bn monetary contribution to society.

€1.42bn benefit in Scotland
The Scottish Football Association has been one of the pioneers of the SROI model, aiming to prove that investment in mass participation has a significant impact in economic value, social and health benefits. The UEFA GROW scheme is reaping rewards, with Scottish society benefiting to the tune of around €1.42bn, just by playing football.

The direct economic impact amounts to more than €227m, over €340m in social benefits and a preventative health spend of almost €794m from the grassroots game.

“We have known for decades about the positive impact of our national sport on the population: it can inspire a nation, unite families and entire communities, and make society a better place,” says the Scottish FA’s chief executive, Ian Maxwell.

“The findings in the UEFA GROW report underline the extent to which football is a force for good in supporting the Scottish government’s health and well-being agenda, and also the dramatic impact the game has on the national economy.”

The Scottish model also includes non-registered players, as the Scottish FA has a variety of data on the number of people taking part in recreational five-a-side games. However, in keeping with an academic perspective, the UEFA GROW SROI model bases its results on registered players – those who train at least twice a week and play 25–30 games a year.

Staggering results
Applying the SROI model to football at a national level has not been tried before and is relatively new to sport in general. Quantifying the benefits and then applying a monetary value to them requires data, research and algorithms.

More than 100 peer-reviewed research papers were consulted by academics to ensure the findings would be consistent for all UEFA member associations. Algorithms were also developed that would automatically take account of national variations throughout Europe, such as GDP, population, cost of healthcare and VAT.

“UEFA brought together academics from ten European universities along with two agencies that are industry experts in this field,” says the president of the Swedish Football Association, Karl-Erik Nilsson, who is also UEFA’s first vice-president and chairman of UEFA’s HatTrick Committee. “Thanks to the work done in the Grassroots Charter and in women’s football development, most national associations have solid data on participation and coaching.”


The first step was to test the model in two countries. UEFA chose Sweden and Romania as they differ significantly in terms of participation, facilities, data and the football workforce (volunteerism/paid coaches). It was critical for UEFA to develop a model that could be applied to all its members. Football data was verified, and national agencies/bodies confirmed additional data on factors such as employment, health and facility development.

“The results were significant from the outset,” says the president of the Romanian Football Federation, Răzvan Burleanu. “Despite taking a very conservative approach, in the economic, social and health aspects of the model, the monetary value of mass participation in football was staggering.”

Sweden and Romania have also been reaping the benefits of encouraging more people to play football, and these are highlighted in the SROI model’s findings. Sweden has witnessed a monetary contribution to society of €1.9bn, with its health service saving €1bn. Meanwhile, Romania has observed a €272m positive rate of investment, with a significant boost to its economy, as well as major savings by its health service.

Numerous benefits
There are many benefits of this analysis. For the first time, football administrators can talk to governments about the proven benefits of the sport. They can present scientific evidence recognised by the academic world, the World Health Organisation and the Council of Europe’s Enlarged Participation Agreement on Sport (EPAS). The proven broader benefits enable football to speak with new ministries, such as health, education, justice and regional development.

This also allows football’s commercial partners to highlight the benefits they bring to society by supporting the grassroots game. At the request of the Swedish and Romanian FAs, the model can now filter down to regional levels, which has enabled local regions to talk to local government about the impact of their work on the community and economy.

This article originally appeared in UEFA Direct 183