In Defence of the Programme

The concept of a matchday programme has withstood over one hundred years of English football, but faces the very real threat of extinction in today’s modern world, writes Kyle Kennealey.

Despite my own personal interests in keeping the programme alive, I believe that it is beneficial for a wider audience of people that programmes should be kept and remain a part of the matchday experience for generations to come.

When examining the main reason for the demise of programmes, social media and the internet has the biggest part to play. So much of the information in the programme, from team news to the managers pre-match thoughts and views on the opposition can now be found online, so there isn’t a great need for people to buy programmes in order to find out information.

I myself have been writing for Lincoln in the programme for a number of years, and this season have started writing the opposition section. Doing this has already given me a great portfolio of work, and will help me if I choose to go into the sports media field of work. Such a chance wouldn’t have been available without the programme, and without The Stacey West Blog and Gary in the first place, who gave me my first opportunity in writing (for which I am extremely grateful for).

We as a club kind of shot ourselves in the foot with the Gold+ Membership, which offered supporters a free digital programme for each home game. I don’t know what the split was between gold and gold+ memberships, and am unsure whether the club have disclosed such information, but with such a large number of season memberships sold, many supporters have little need to buy a physical copy of the programme if they have a digital copy.

There has also been a drastic shift in how people watch football. Back in the 70/80s, before my time, people who purchased a programme would stand on the terrace and read the programme before the match would begin. But in the last couple of years, through problems caused by covid, companies have chose to produce programmes online and either have them posted or keep them digital. This is more convenient for some people, but leads to lower sales on a matchday and takes away the tradition of reading the programme at the game.

Digital copies just aren’t the same though. I like to keep my programmes in good condition, but it is some that have been damaged that give me the better memories. When I see the programme from Grimsby at home a few years back, its now crumpled cover reminds me of the continually changing conditions that day, going from snow to sun multiple times. And the programme from Gillingham earlier this season was also wet after I dropped it following our equaliser. These little anecdotes cannot be found with digital programmes, and should the physical programme go, so would these memories.

For the programme to survive in the future, it must diversify from the content that is readily available online. Features that are unique and written by people who don’t then post the same work online would appeal to more people. Reducing the amount of pages is the obvious answer, but doing so negates how the club make money from the programme in the first place: adverts.

So, what is the answer?

I have a few ideas that would help keep the programme going. Firstly, I would use QR codes that would be linked to exclusive content online, that is only available by purchasing a programme. This way, people can still view content online but have to buy a programme to do so. To actually make the programme itself a worthwhile purchase, I would reduce the amount of pages inside the programme and the actual size. A lot of programmes are too big to fit into coat or jacket pockets, and even if some do they tend to be folded. Making the programme size smaller would overcome the obstacle of storing a programme during the game, or in bad weather conditions (as duly demonstrated in the past few days).

Another would be to make such all content inside the programme is unique in itself, and so it can’t be found elsewhere. While interviews with managers back in the pre-digital era could hardly be found anywhere other than in a programme, the managers of the current generation speak to the media before each game, and their words can be found at ease. Content such as this doesn’t really appeal to people, whereas features with past players and opinions of people from varying generations would be much more suitable, in my opinion.

Getting the local people and particularly schoolchildren involved is also vital in the future of the programme. It is the current generation that are moving from physical to digital media, and by getting them involved in maybe designing or writing aspects of the programme, they will be more inclined to buy it. An eye-catching design is also needed, to really stand out and make sure the first impression that people see when looking at the programme will reel them in and force them to buy it.

Do I have all the answers? No, but some of the ideas that I’ve listed above will at least be thought of, and I dearly hope that there is a programme still running next season for the supporters to buy.

For those who contacted me (Gary) to be part of a working group on the programme, I haven’t forgotten, just waiting for a steer from elsewhere before we start.

Also, don’t forget the Red Imps Community Trust have a retro programme sale before every game in the fan zone, with hundreds of old programmes to pursue and buy.