Football Fans and Betting (FFAB): a feasibility study and randomised pilot trial of a group-based intervention to reduce gambling involvement among male footbal

Sports betting is a massive growth area for the gambling industry, and recent years have seen the increasing convergence of gambling and sports like football. This aim of this research is to carry out a pilot study of a new programme - Football Fans and Betting (FFAB). It aims to support men who gamble regularly to reduce how much time and money they spend on betting, and so improve their wellbeing. 

This project addresses an urgent and growing public health problem: gambling among the high-risk population of male sports bettors. Sports betting is a big growth area for the gambling industry.  It has dramatically increased since the 2005 Gambling Act, and men who watch football have become a key target for industry advertising. This trades on men’s passion for football to draw them into gambling and to encourage them to believe their knowledge of the sport will give them an advantage. We believe it is important to counterbalance these trends with interventions that prevent the harms of gambling. These harms affect finances, interpersonal relations, health and wellbeing, and impact on vulnerable people the most. To date, there are no independent, national initiatives that exist to prevent gambling harm, either among the general population, or among this particular target group.

The goal of this research is to carry out a pilot study of a new programme - Football Fans and Betting (FFAB). It aims to support men who gamble regularly to reduce how much time and money they spend on betting, and so improve their wellbeing.  FFAB draws on learning from the highly successful Football Fans in Training (FFIT) programme, which our team’s research has shown to be very effective for men. FFIT used the appeal of football clubs to provide a supportive space for men to learn new techniques for weight reduction and healthy living. Through group sessions led by football coaches, they developed a toolkit of behaviour change skills such as self-monitoring and goal-setting, in a supportive environment that enabled mutual learning.

We believe that many of these features, particularly the draw of the football club, and the sociable, group-based context of the programme, can be help inform a programme to reduce involvement with gambling. We are being guided in this by people who have direct experience of gambling, including organisations that provide treatment for people with gambling problems, and former problem gamblers.  FFAB will be delivered in three phases. In the first, we will talk to gamblers, sports fans and team coaches and use this information to refine materials for the programme. In the second stage, specially trained coaches will deliver the programme in group sessions in 2 clubs to see if it works. Based on feedback from this, in the third phase, we will then roll out the programme in 4 football clubs in the north of England. The sessions will support men to set personalised targets for reductions in the time and money they spend gambling, and will also cover important issues such as: explaining how gambling works; looking at impacts on health and relationships, industry tactics; and what people can do to reduce their betting. We will measure changes in gambling behaviour by looking at differences in how much time and money people spend on betting between the start and end of the programme. We will have a comparison group who have not gone through the programme to help us understand if any changes are the result of the group sessions or not. At the end, we will use our professional networks in the fields of gambling, sport, public health and policy to communicate our findings to a wide general audience.


  • Prof Gerda Reith (SPS, University of Glasgow)
  • Dr Christopher Bunn (IHW, University of Glasgow)
  • Professor Cindy Gray (IHW, University of Glasgow)
  • Prof Sally Wyke (IHW, University of Glasgow)
  • Miss Nicola Greenlaw (Robertson Centre for Biostatistics, University of Glasgow)
  • Dr Manuela Deidda (IHW, University of Glasgow)
  • Dr Heather Wardle, (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)
  • Professor Kate Hunt (University of Stirling)
  • Professor Robert Rogers. (University of Bangor)
  • Dr John Rooksby. (University of Northumbria)
  • Dr Matthew Philpott. Healthy Stadia
  • Mr Neil Platt. Beacon Counselling Trust
  • Mr Frankie Graham. BetKnowMore

Project Dates 

January 2020 – January 2022


National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) £632,000