A step in the digital world of the football programme

Over the past few months, the future of the humble football programme has been front and centre after a decision was taken by the EFL clubs that it was no longer mandatory to produce one for each and every game. There can be no doubt that the original purpose of the programme to educate and inform fans about what was going on at the club, who the opposition were and a vehicle to promote commercial partners (there were more reasons than this but at its core, this was the purpose).

Today, our instant-on digital world means most of the content in the programme is out of date as soon as it is printed, with most fans attending a game having access to significantly more up-to-date information in the palm of their hands. Football fans want more today than just a memento of a game attended. On the most part they want content that is up to date and informative, adding value to their match day experience.

Further down the leagues, the question of “to publish or not” comes down to money, or more than often, the lack of it. Few clubs can say that they make money on producing and selling a programme today, unless they are simply creating the bare minimum, printing in-house on a black and white photocopier. The programme is a conundrum for clubs at the Non-League level. On one hand, it is a valuable tool to get information over to the fans, whilst on the other it is a commercial vehicle for the club to sell advertising space. Unfortunately, whilst the commercial manager may be happy at selling 20 pages of ads, the reader wants to see editorial and content not ads. So, they won’t buy it and because they don’t buy it, the appeal to the advertiser falls over time. An inverse catch 22.

From experience, we have taken great pride in our match day programme, inviting a wide breadth of writers to produce unique and varied content coupled with some excellent match images. Our style and quality of content hasn’t changed much over the past few years, yet the number of copies we sell per game has slowly reduced despite attendances rising by nearly 25% over the last three seasons.

We have traditionally sold 1 programme for every 4 attendees. On an average match-day we print 200 copies, 50 of which are used for players, management, guests and officials. The other 150, in most instances sell, at £2 a copy. Multiply that by 21 league games and the £6,300 is a very useful revenue stream. In addition, we have produced an online version, made available to anyone, 24 hours after the game. With over 700 owners living outside of the East Sussex catchment area, we have seen on average an additional 150 views of this. Of course, some of those who previously bought a programme could be now viewing the free online version, thus cannibalising our own sales but likewise, one of the appeals of the online programme is allowing those fans who cannot get to games to access the content.

In most instances a programme for a Saturday game goes to print after a thorough edit on a Thursday at the very latest, which means that two whole days of footballing news, views and scandal can break before the programme is printed. We all want to consume our news now – this is the prime reason why traditional hard-copy newspaper circulation has fallen so dramatically and a match programme often contains nothing new to the reader.

To many fans, buying a programme is seen as an essential part of going to a game. But like every other element of the game, it needs to get with the times. This is why from the start of the 2018/19 season, Lewes FC will not be publishing a match-day programme. Instead, we will be producing a ground-breaking matchday publication in the form of an e-programme. As soon as fans enter The Dripping Pan on a match-day they will be able to access the digital content, which will include the traditional elements such as a preview of our opponents, match reviews, details of forthcoming away trips and information on what is going on at the club. However, we will be mixing this text-based content with video interviews from our management team, players and the Chairman, previews recorded by visiting fans, and much more.

We know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but Lewes have always been about innovation and pushing the envelope for football clubs everywhere. We believe we will be the only club to do this in England and whilst we will be reducing some of our operational costs, we will hopefully be setting the standard for the future of the football programme.

The e-programme opens up a whole new world of opportunities, not only for the club but also for the reader. The ability to be able to add dynamic content is a huge opportunity – putting video into the programme, having a live scores feed, making adverts interact with the user (and thus making space more valuable to the advertiser), the opportunity to sponsor players whilst the game is going on and being able to access it from the palm of your hand in real time. Oh, and of course it is free of charge.

I’m not a traditionalist but likewise I understand the place for the humble football programme and those who will rally against embracing the digital age. Technology can deliver reduce costs, increased revenues and a wider readership for every club, big or small. But are we ready and brave enough to embrace it? We think so but don’t just take my word for it, have a look yourself.

Postscript – some people complained but by 8pm the e-programme had been viewed by 750 people. For our last home game in the 2017/18 season we sold 223 programmes. Just saying

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4 thoughts on “A step in the digital world of the football programme

  1. It’s quite sad that you have come to this decision as a club. The programme is part of the fabric of our game. This is probably going to set a trend that will kill off the programme. I edit the programme down the road at Bognor and so much effort and times goes into making our paper programme worth the £2 price with content you can’t find online. The amount of effort I put in myself to source articles and keep the paper format alive is worth the long hours in front of the laptop. I’m sure you prefer seeing all your books in paper format? Just look at the cover for your last book. It just makes you want to read it and hold it. Sadly a PDF or an online screen doesn’t have the same effect would you agree?

  2. A very interesting issue – in both senses!

    I wonder what’s stopped other non-league clubs from making the bold move to produce a digital programme? Perhaps it owes something to the demographics of their supporters. I’ve been going to Nyewood Lane fairly regularly for thirteen years, and a large chunk of our support base has always been the over-60s. This seems to be true of most other Step 3 clubs I’ve visited. In fact, I’d guess that non-league regulars are older, on average, than fans in the Football League.

    I don’t want to make lazy generalisations about different generations’ technological prowess – I’m sure there are one or two OAP software developers out there somewhere – but what percentage of non-league season ticket holders own a smartphone, let alone know how to navigate through a multi-media package online?

    I still think online content is a good idea in the long term. I enjoyed the programme for the derby (what a cracking match!) and I hope it works out well for all concerned.

  3. I agree with valid points from both sides of this argument. I can appreciate the work and dedication to a club to produce new content for print publications week after week, however I think also about people who’ve moved away from their home club or even the country that can’t feasibly acquire programmes from home football grounds yet want that feeling of nostalgia of “being there” that they could get were it virtualised via PDF and offered via subscription. I’d say keep up the good work Daniel, but let’s also look to the future and consider making a virtual programme available after match day for those who might really miss the real feel of the printed copy. Cheers

  4. Completely agree with the above comment. It’s a worrying situation. I support an EFL club but living in exile I also do quite a bit of groundhopping. A prerequisite of a “tick” is having a copy of the matchday programme. I’ve worked in IT for over 30 years and last thing I want to do when I’m relaxing is stare at another screen and only have a basic text & voice phone when I’m out.
    Digital programmes however flashy have no intrinsic value to a collector. I’ve been to a Southern League game with a friend today and failed to check about programmes, it was sadly a club who are now digital only, even though I got a teamsheet it feels like a blah day and left me regreting not checking and visiting another club . As a neutral at a game it’s nice to have some information about the teams involved, recent results, league table etc and also something physical as a record of the match. As far as EFL level clubs are concerned they should reduce the number of pages, my clubs programme is 80-90 pages, it could easily be half that and still have plenty of information. As far as latest news is concerned that is not important as most people, myself included, get it online when I’m at home. If they went to digital programme then I would seriously consider giving up going to home games altogether and just go to away ones where programmes were available.

    I downloaded the pdf of todays programme with a view to seeing if it was printable – it was a mish-mash – different page sizes and orientations. It’s going to take some serious editing to get it into shape and then prob cost an arm and a leg to have it printed properly.

    Unfortunately Aylesbury is now crossed off my “to do” list also Barnet, Barwell and Lewes I can’t go back to. Welcome to groundhoppers hell!

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