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UEFA Explainer: valuing European football's social return on investment


UEFA Grow's social return on investment model puts a precise figure on football's wider economic, health and social impact.

Football has been shown to have a hugely positive impact on wider society
Football has been shown to have a hugely positive impact on wider society

What is the UEFA Grow social return on investment model?

It is a cost-benefit analysis that allows governments and national associations to evaluate the social benefits of Europe's most popular mass participation sport. The approach was pioneered by a UEFA programme called Grow, which offers a range of strategic development services to help Europe's 55 national associations fulfil their potential for growth, on and off the field.

What is the true social value of amateur football in Europe?

To date, the model shows that 8.6 million registered amateur players across 25 European countries have generated a cumulative €39.4bn annually in direct and in-kind savings across:

1. Economy: €10.8bn through club membership fees, equipment, merchandise, travel, food & beverages and investment in infrastructure.

2. Society: €12.3bn in-kind savings through the positive social impact of football on communities. With its emphasis on teamwork, discipline and equal access for everyone, regardless of ability, race or gender, football strengthens and educates local communities. This, in turn, increases earning potential by creating volunteer / employment opportunities as well as reducing crime rates.

3. Health: €16.3bn in healthcare savings due to football's role in reducing the risk of conditions, such as Type II diabetes and heart disease, and improving mental health and well-being.

How does UEFA calculate these figures?

Designed with the support of nine European universities, the model draws on football participation data from 25 UEFA countries as well as more than 100 peer-reviewed research papers across different disciplines, such as health, education, employment, sociology and sport. The European Union, Council of Europe, the World Health Organization and the United Nations have all verified the validity of the approach.

National associations in each of the following 25 countries have used the model to calculate the social return on investment of amateur football: Albania, Azerbaijan, Belarus, England, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Gibraltar, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Moldova, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Romania, Scotland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden.

In the first week of December 2020, three of these associations released new studies measuring amateur football's contribution to the national economy: Albania (€45m), Estonia (€90m) and Germany (€13.9bn).

Are there equivalent figures showing amateur football's added value to local communities?

The social return on investment club calculator allows associations to measure the economic, social and health benefits of amateur football on local communities. For example: through spending on football kits in local shops; investment in football facilities (training equipment, pitches etc.); the in-kind contribution of volunteer coaches to physical education.

In Scotland, the Aberdeen Community Trust leveraged the Scottish Football Association's (SFA) social return on investment report to lobby local authorities to support grassroots football initiatives. The result: a £250,000 yearly grant for the PeterDeen FraserDeen PortyDeen City Academy that provided a critical financial lifeline during football's 2020 temporary shutdown.

"Evidencing your work in this way is a crucial part of building trust with key partners, and it has led to longer-term funded projects. Without this, we would have faced difficult decisions around our projects and people during the global pandemic," said Steven Sweeney, chief operating officer at Aberdeen FC Community Trust. "The 1:10 return is something tangible which has also given the private sector comfort in knowing that their investment is achieving social outcomes."

How can the model help UEFA member associations secure long-term, regular funding for developing football?

By demonstrating a clear return on investment, UEFA's model helps associations make evidence-based cases to their governments for adding 'football for development' to ministerial budget lines.

For example, cost-benefit studies consistently show that amateur football generates greater added value for national economies than the professional game. In Germany, amateur sides deliver three times more value than the revenue attributed to all 18 clubs playing in the top tier of the Bundesliga.

Yet more than one third (35%) of UEFA member associations currently receive no government support for the development of grassroots football. Instead these countries tend to place greater emphasis on investing in elite-level football, at the expense of increasing overall participation rates.

Eastern Europe, for example, has on average one registered football club for every 44,000 inhabitants; in western Europe, the equivalent ratio is one club per 6,500 people. Yet countries with the highest number of amateur clubs per capita offer a richer reservoir of playing talent, helping both domestic and national teams to perform more consistently at the highest level.

Which national associations have made successful cases for increased funding by using social return on investment data?

There is growing statistical evidence that the European football community recognises the long-term return in investment from amateur football. UEFA estimates that for every €1 of EURO revenue invested in football development through its HatTrick funding programme, national associations, governments and local authorities and clubs have contributed an additional €3.63.

By applying the UEFA model, the Polish Football Federation (PZPN) successfully secured €10m annually from the national government to invest in a regional development strategy for grassroots football.

During recent national lockdowns, the Italian Football Association (FIGC) used social return on investment data to underline the important contribution that grassroots football makes to local economies and communities.

The Scottish Football Association (SFA) points to its social return on investment report as a key fact in developing stronger relationships with the devolved government's ministers for education, communities, public finance and migration and travel. Each minister cites SFA data to underline football's social impact in their respective sector.

The SFA report has helped its football development department secure both a three-year grant worth £150,000 from the National Lottery Fund, as well as £4m in funding support from the national agency of sport over the next four years.

What other football or sports organisations have used return on investment models?

The use of cost-benefit analysis to calculate the added value that football brings to nations' gross domestic product (GDP) is increasingly common among governing bodies. Both the English Premier League and the domestic league in Belgium have conducted their own studies.

Outside of football, Sport England, Sport Ireland, the AFL (Australian rules football) and the UK swimming federation have all applied return on investment models to their discipline.

UEFA has also shared its findings with other sporting institutions, partners and international forums. For example: presenting to a conference on the UN sustainable development goals, hosted by the International Labour Organization and participating in a working group on model indicators in sport, physical education and physical activity.

How does UEFA oversee implementation of the model?

In 2017, UEFA set up an advisory panel composed of academic specialists and representatives from eight national associations to oversee both the development and implementation of a social return on investment model for European football.

The panel, currently chaired by Dr Tim Crabbe, CEO of Substance, also tracks new methodologies and findings as well as assessing the latest data and literature. UEFA funds Substance, a specialist research agency, to help member associations apply the model to their national game.