Professional sports clubs are important conduits for delivering on the Exercise is Medicine agenda, especially in hard-to-reach (HTR) populations. In the UK, Football League Club Community Trusts (FLCT) deliver physical activity (PA) interventions with far reaching Public Health potential. However, at present, little is known/understood about the mechanics and outcomes for such programming.
PURPOSE: This research provides the first audit of health improvement services delivered by FLCT in the 72 Professional Football League Clubs in England.
METHODS: Data were collected using: (I) A review of FLCT websites (n=72). (II) An online survey completed by the FLCT managers (n=34/47.2%). (III) Semi-structured interviews (n=12/35.2%) with a sub-sample of these FLCT managers.
RESULTS: All 72 FLTC provided health improvement services across all ages. Survey results show that every FLCT delivered PA interventions, 91.2% (n=31/34) provided dietary interventions and 55.9% (n=19/34) provided interventions on alcohol/smoking. Further, specialist weight management services were delivered by 73.5% (n=25/34) of FLCT, mental health intervention by 82.4%, (n=28/34) and education was provided by 64.7% (n=22/34). Male specific interventions were provided by 97.1% (n=33/34) of FLTC, yet female specific sessions were only provided by 41.2% (n=14/34). Furthermore, 64.7% (22/34) of FLTC worked with socially disadvantaged groups, 64.7%, (n=22/34) worked with the educationally excluded and 38.2% (n=13/34) with other HTR groups. At present, the majority of FLCT evaluated interventions, 88%, (n=30/34) and 76.5% (n=26/34) used Public Health guidance to underpin their interventions. Interviews reported the importance of ‘meeting the needs of communities’, ‘using soccer to connect to underserved groups’ and ‘working as part of a strategic collaboration’. Challenges include ‘short-term funding’, ‘the influence of FLCT to mainstream interventions after initial funding’ expired and ‘short thinking from funders’.
CONCLUSION: FLCT currently deliver valuable health improvement services to a range of underserved groups. However, until robust evaluation and adherence to Public Health guidance becomes mainstream, FLCT - and professional soccer clubs will face challenges in influencing the Public Health agenda.