Chairman Stuart Fuller introduces our new matchday 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.

The original purpose of the programme was to educate and inform fans about what was going on at the club, who the opposition were, and as 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Today, our instant on-digital world means most of the content in the programme is out of date as soon as it is printed, with most fans attending a game having access to significantly more up-to-date information in the palm of their hands.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. For 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 often, the lack of it. Few clubs can say that they make money on producing and selling a programme, unless they are simply creating the bare minimum: printing in-house on a black and white photocopier.

Rooks programmeThe 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 adverts.

So, they won’t buy it and because they don’t buy it, the appeal to the advertiser falls over time. A Catch 22.

From experience, we have taken great pride in our matchday programme, inviting a wide breadth of writers to produce unique and varied content coupled with excellent match images taken by James Boyes. 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 almost 25% over the past three seasons.

We have traditionally sold only one programme for every four 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 we raise is vastly outweighed by the costs of production and printing.

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.

Time for a change

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 matchday programme.

Instead, we will be producing a ground-breaking matchday publication in the form of an e-programme, called the Progcast. As soon as fans enter The Dripping Pan on a matchday they will be able to access the digital content, which will include the traditional elements such as a preview of our opponents, match reports and information on what is going on at the club. However, we will be mixing this text-based content with audio and video interviews from our management team, players, and the Chairman, previews recorded by visiting fans. Instead of an outdated squad list, the actual teams will be announced as soon as they’re named.

We know it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but Lewes have always been about innovation and pushing the boundaries for football clubs everywhere. 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 Progcast 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, making adverts interactive, 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 reduced 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.