Programme, Sir?

I like to buy a programme on those few occasions I go to an away game, writes Richard Godson.

It’s as much about having a souvenir as actually reading what’s in it. I do read them but let’s face it and without wanting to give offence to those who contribute, the match day programme has about as much chance of winning a Pulitzer prize as I do. That having been said, there is plenty of content in the present day programme and given the current debate about its future and doubts about its viability I thought it would be worth comparing Wednesday’s Saturday offering with ours from last Tuesday. When I bought the Wednesday programme, my first reaction was that it was inferior to our own but on closer examination, it actually compares very favourably.

Price

Wednesday’s programme is priced at £3, the same as We Are Imps, pretty much standard in our division, I should imagine.

Pages

Wednesday’s offering runs to 50 pages between its covers as opposed to 62 in We are Imps.

Construction

The Wednesday programme has a glued spine as opposed to the two staple binding of ours. This, coupled with the heavier cover gives it a higher class and quality feel even though the interior pages are a similar weight to our own. One advantage of stapling is the ability to incorporate a centre fold player photograph that can be pulled out and blue tacked to a wall or notice board, if anyone still does that sort of thing.

Appearance

Again the Wednesday programme scores in my view. The front cover has a clean, simple and very effective appearance. Indeed it is quite subtle with a main image of a player in home colours bearing the main sponsor’s logo, superimposed on a background in which the gabled centre of the main stand roof with the club’s name and founding date appear over his left shoulder. In the top right corner of the cover are the crests of the protagonists. With the exception of the two crests, the whole is given a blue tinge, in much the same way red dominates the We Are Imps cover. There the similarity ends though. In contrast with the clean simplicity of the Wednesday cover, ours seems almost cluttered. The protagonists’ crests are in the top left corner, our own in mono in contrast to the colour on the other, due no doubt to the red background against which it is set. Details of the fixture itself are set underneath. The main image is an action shot, in this case of Regan Poole and his shirt carries the current sponsor’s logo. They happen also to be the match sponsor and so get a second bite of the cherry under the sponsored League One logo top right. As you well know, our programme has a title, currently We Are Imps. No hiding our light under a bushel here. The main image is bled to the top and side edges leaving a bar along the bottom carrying the logos of the club’s main partners.

As a piece of design, the Wednesday cover with its clean simplicity wins hands down but I have no doubt that the Imps’ cover design is driven by commercial imperatives that perhaps don’t trouble the Owls.

There are similarities between the two back covers but subtle differences too. The squads are listed along with match officials and in Wednesday’s case the match and ball sponsors together with main partners (two to our twelve) that appear on our front cover. We announce the next match and a safety message including an injunction not to bring pyrotechnics into the ground, highly topical in the light of the incident on Saturday. Again Wednesday’s layout is simpler and cleaner in my view.

Content

The inside front cover of both is devoted to a full page ad. In Wednesday’s case Kick It Out. Page 3 of the Wednesday programme is mainly a contents page which I like and also features the cover price, design and production information as well as a list of contributors, in common with our own. Also listed are the club’s numerous honours, which speak all too starkly of the owls decline since the Second World War, prior to which they had been league Champions on four occasions and lifted the FA Cup three times. The sum total of their honours this century is the League One play offs in 2005. What this table doesn’t tell you is that they were FA Cup finalists in 1993. Their highest post war league finish was second in Division 1 in 1960 – 61, the year we were relegated from the Second Division. Many of the full page ads are common to both publications, perhaps reflecting league wide arrangements. Will revenue from these be lost altogether if publication ceases and has this revenue been factored into the assessment of the programme’s viability? I imagine it has but I merely ask.

The similarities and differences resume overleaf with pages 4 and 5 devoted to manager Darren Moore’s column, or rather four of them in which he not only seemingly analyses every last kick of their encounter with Cambridge United but also finds time to praise the Yorkshire Ambulance Service.  Michael, by contrast is positively taciturn, confining his remarks to five short paragraphs on page 5 leaving page 4 free for another full page ad.

Both programmes have a number of similar features and regular slots. Whereas we devote eight pages to our opponents AFC Wimbledon, packed with content about their players and their history, including a fascinating (to me anyway) tour through some of their more notable seasons, the Imps merit just one page of text in between a welcome message featuring a view of the Co-op stand and a current picture of former Owl, Chris Maguire. There is action from a previous game in both programmes and both feature articles by club legends, in our case, Chris Ashton; in theirs, former Boston United player manager Mel Sterland (OK so he also played nearly 350 times for Wednesday and I’m writing this with tongue planted firmly in cheek).

Two pages of the Wednesday programme are devoted to player/kit sponsors compared with one page for our kit only sponsors. Without showing my workings, based on each squad I count 76 sponsorship opportunities for the Owls against 60 for the Imps. 30 (or 40%) have been filled in the Wednesday squad as against 56 (93%) in the City squad and coaching staff. Is there an opportunity here for our players themselves to be sponsored in addition to their kits? 16 of the Owls squad have been sponsored along with 8 home kits and 6 away kits, which suggests to me that in Sheffield at least, supporters and local businesses prefer to sponsor the player rather than what they wear. The two pages Sheffield devote to this feature do at least allow space for the logos of sponsoring businesses to be used.

Another common feature is a section for younger supporters with puzzles and quizzes. The female teams of both clubs also get a mention although in this particular edition Wednesday have chosen to spotlight their Under 15s, 16s and 18s. Both also feature their Academies. In City’s case the opportunity is taken to announce François Zoko’s appointment to the Academy coaching staff with a sub feature concerning the FA Youth Cup first round draw.

As you might expect both programmes carry current season stats, results and league tables and Wednesday fill their final inside page with several paragraphs about their next two games. I should also mention that on page 7 they announce the forthcoming ITV coverage of their FA Cup First Round home tie with league leaders Plymouth Argyle. I was going to finish with a word of praise for our own commercial department who have assembled a veritable legion of sponsors and partners from national and local businesses and seem to be very much on the ball when it comes to spotting and seizing any opportunity to accrue revenue. On the other hand, perhaps they have no choice given the largesse of the TV companies seems to gravitate to the Sheffield Wednesdays of this world rather than the Imps. I know we’ve had a few bountiful seasons in the recent past, well one anyway and who is to say that a juicy tie in a later round won’t attract the cameras along with the commensurate cash injection, always assuming we don’t slip up in the first round. It wouldn’t be the first time, would it?

Overall, I like the style of the Wednesday programme which is very professional and perhaps a hangover from previous seasons in the Championship. Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from theirs, just as they could of ours. Our own is said to be losing money and under threat of ceasing publication. I don’t know whether we are unique in this respect but one thing is for sure. For many years, decades even, the programme was pretty much out there on its own as a marketing tool and news outlet for the club. These days there is club content daily, if not hourly on a variety of social and broadcast media outlets from Facebook to Radio Lincolnshire, from Twitter to the Stacey West Podcast, not to mention this Blog and Vital Lincoln City. Perhaps the ‘dead tree medium’ is becoming a thing of the past and the programme will transform itself from glossy paper to an electronic format which would be better than losing it altogether.