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Today, our instant-on digital world means most of the content in the programme is out of date as soon as it is printed, with most fans attending a game having access to significantly more up-to-date information in the palm of their hands.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

So what makes a good football programme?

Today marks my third month in the hardest job in football.  Manager’s have an easy job turning up for 3 hours on a Saturday to watch a game for free.  Directors?  Well that’s just sitting round a table eating biscuits and talking about building new toilet blocks (well, to an extent).  I’m talking about one where you need to be available 24 x 7 yet your work often ends up being discarded in the bin.  I am a (co) Football Programme Editor.

New Picture (3)In the past three months, Barry Collins and myself have put together ten editions of the Lewes matchday programme.  Programmes that every week we think are getting better and better.  It does help that Barry has had some experience in the editing game (Anyone heard of PC Pro magazine by any chance?), we have a brilliant team of designers over at East-Web (thanks Jack and Lee) who lay it all out and some excellent pictures from the shutter finger of James Boyes.  But it is the bits in between that cause us to burn the midnight oil.

When we took over the role in the summer, Barry and I had grand plans for the programme.  Who wanted to read dull boring bits about the away team when they only bring two fans? Adverts? Seriously…one or two at best.   People flocked to us promising us Pullitzer quality articles.  But when the chips have been down and we needed to do three programmes in a little more than five days where were they?  Exactly.  We were on our own.

The problem for Non-League clubs, as Glenn Wilson pointed out in a recent When Saturday Comes article is that the job is the one nobody wants to do.  The role is one of those that if we do a good job, no one notices, but if it goes wrong, everyone tells us.  Whilst we have “editorial” control, our audience doesn’t really care.  We currently have 12 pages of adverts in a 32 page programme.  That in my honest opinion is too many.  We have no choice but to carry FIVE from the Ryman League because of a deal they did. It is arguable we get the value of any commercial arrangement even if one of the ads is for Boux Avenue.  So each week we have to come up with something new.

Lewes v Margate 2013So far, so good.  I have no idea if sales are up or down, but two weeks ago we sold out (and long before kick off) for the first time in years.  In fact the silent majority were soon quick to voice their disapproval of the fact, telling us we should have printed more.  Well, perhaps if those same voices would have given us some feedback when we asked earlier in the season perhaps we may have.  We are still trying to put our own stamp of individuality on each edition.  Our offering today against Margate included an article on the real founding fathers of Football, an interview with one of our oldest and most loyal fans, a piece on our opponents written by one of their more well known fans and a “last word” from Barry about his Geoff Shreeves moment last week.  See for yourselves and tell us what you think by reading a pdf copy here. Continue reading

Putting something back

Sometimes ideas come to me in the weirdest place.  This week, whilst in the middle of one of the best concerts I have ever heard in my life I realised something.  An Epiphany.  Which is quite ironic as a) I was born on Epiphany (6th January) and b) I was in a church (The Union Chapel).  There I was listening to Scala sign Creep when I simply had to stop and write down my thoughts.

We sit at our laptops, PC’s, iPad’s and the like writing all of our good stuff on a daily basis, sharing it with a small community of like minded people.  We are in essence fuelling our own fire.  But there will come a time when our product will become a commodity, homogenised. There will be little left to cover and then we will all start writing about the same things.  I dread the day Beckham announces his retirement for instance.

When the Euro2012 starts next year we will all be watching, listening, writing and reading about the same thing.  Every game will be previewed and reviewed from every different angle there is, but the end result will never change. But there is another world out there.  A world where people do not spend hours online, not just because they can’t but because they do not want to.  What can we do to reach out to them?

Hang on in there – I am getting to the point.

An article in the award winning Staines Town programme

Last season I emailed 100 non league teams and asked them if they wanted me to provide them with content for their programmes.  I didn’t ask for a fee – just a credit if they used an article and a copy of the match day programme for posterity.  Out of the 100, 31 bothered to respond, and 29 said they would love to have stuff.  They ranged from the likes of Kidderminster Harriers and Cambridge United in the Blue Square Bet Premier down to the likes of Lordswood in the Kent Senior League.  The articles were all generic football ones – some of which that had appeared on these very pages such as our look back at Subbuteo or our Non League manifesto.  Examples of how the articles looked can be found here. For some clubs the requirement to produce a programme is an expensive chore (and it is a league requirement) so any help that can be provided is a welcome opportunity. Continue reading

Unsung Heroes part 5: Get with the programme!

One of the essential components of a match day when I was growing up was the programme.  Before the days of the Internet (Oi! Grandad – shut up!) it was the only way you could get information on what was going on at the club.  In the 1970’s and 80’s the typical programme was text heavy with few adverts, and those it did carry tended to be for local companies.  The concept of syndication had not reached football yet and so each club carried its own exclusive content.

Today, on the main part programmes offer little value.  Everyone knows everything about the players at the top level and Premier League match day programmes are rarely of interest or even up to date.  The content toes the club line, filling its pages with glossy adverts from premium brands, and bland interviews with players all confessing their love for the game.  This was one of the reasons why Fanzines grew in popularity during the early to mid noughties.  Today the internet, and mobile communication replaces the need for programmes.  Unfortunately, printing deadlines still mean match day programmes are often days out of date – a classic example being Blackpool’s recent edition for the game versus Liverpool where the visitors were profiled with Roy Hodgson in charge under the caption “You will never walk alone”.  Hodgson had of course departed the club some four days previously. You can read more on our thoughts of the future of the match day programme here. Continue reading