The Changing face of Non-League Football Programmes

This Season will be a pivotal one for the future of the beloved Football Programme.

By that statement I of course mean the hard paper copy version that has been in existence since the very first season of the Football League, some 130 years ago.

There have been many changes in that time but throughout the ages the programme has been an integral part of the matchday experience. It is often bought in some sort of habit. More often than not to become part of a collection with the expectation to look at it in the future. This rarely happens. Boxes of them are stored untouched for years in garages and lofts all across the land. A partner may ask why they are not binned or taken to the charity shop. But that cannot be done, they may be worth something. “Sell them then” No they’re mine, my memories of a game that one day I will look back on. One day one of those players may score the goal that wins the World Cup for England and I can say that I saw them play at Step 4 of the Non League Pyramid when they were 17 years old and I have the programme to prove it.

There has been a lot of talk recently about the move from hard copy programmes to an online version and a few clubs are already starting to take that step. Cost is a big reason, environmental concerns another. If the need for the Printers can be taken away then surely time and money can be saved? It’s a fair point and certainly the further down the pyramid you go it is hard to argue against it. At these lower levels a lot of effort goes in to producing 30 or 40 copies yet the interest in them is probably not worth the effort just to satisfy a few of the older generation or occassional groundhoppers. Why do it then? Well, League rules say you must provide one.
In our area where the Isthmian League oversees steps 3 and 4 and the SCEFL governs 5 and 6 traditionally the rules have stated that a hard copy must be produced for every game. However, this year the rules were tweaked to say that clubs could also choose to make that on online copy but, unlike in the English Football League, they had to choose to do one or the other and then stick with that choice for the whole campaign. With that in mind I see this year as an experimental one for clubs. They will on the whole continue to make hard copies and be looking to see if other clubs make the move online and note the reaction to it and to see how it works out. One club that has confirmed the switch is Lewes of the Isthmian Premier Division. Having read their first copy this week I can see they have taken a very different angle to it that incorporates lots of interactive options but a layout that is more similar to a standard website than the usual magazine style where pages are turned. The expected content is there, just displayed in the same way as any other page on a website. When reading it I certainly did not feel like I was flicking through a football programme and I cannot say I bonded with it but the articles were impressive. When I experimented with ideas myself I could not get away from the expectation of the customer to want an online book with pages that turn, just like the normal programme just online. The Lewes idea is different and we wait to see the reaction to it. We also wait to see what others will be doing.

For me the potential online is great, especially for advertising. Clickable links will be standard in the future and move you from the programme page to the company website. Think about the revenues that could bring in if you got paid per click!

Although I habitually buy programmes at matches I am ready for the change and I enjoyed travelling to a game last week whilst reading an online copy from the game I was about to see. It built up the excitement on what is normally a boring journey! So well done Welling Town, you are leading at this stage for me.

In summary it is very early days though in this transformation and although the traditionalists are against it we all know it is heading that way. The world is going online so why should football be any different. This season clubs will test best practice and look around for winning ideas. Some will fail and upset their regulars and others will come up with groundbreaking concepts that set the standard of the online football programme world. Don’t be closed to it, it’s happening. Embrace it, get involved and give constructive feedback to the trendsetters.

The above are just my thoughts and ideas around the subject of online programmes but should you wish to use the content feel free to with just a link back or credit to me or my website

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