A new approach to non-league programmes is needed

A familiar sight...unsold programmes
A familiar sight…unsold programmes

Football news is in demand like never before. All supporters want to read about their favourite team and gorge on information. Whether it’s Real Madrid or Rhyl, Milan to Montrose, fans are desperate to know what’s happening. But they don’t want to pay for it.

One of the rituals of going to a game – especially when you are young – was buying your programme and absorbing every line. Today, especially in non-league football, the day of the programme is on the decline – probably terminally. Clubs all over the pyramid are bemoaning declining sales as supporters gain all they need to know from the internet.

It’s time to face facts. Non-league clubs  are up against it when it comes to funding a programme and actually getting someone to produce it for them. There’s little motivation in working 10-12 hours a week on a product that only 20% of your crowd is bothering to buy. “I  just look at the website, it doesn’t cost anything,” is a comment you often hear when a fan is asked if they buy a programme. And it’s a trend that has gathered momentum.

The problem is, the leagues demand that you produce a programme of a certain size, so clubs have to deliver a product they know will not make money, and at best, will break even. It’s a loss leader.

The time has come to make life easier for non-league clubs that are, essentially, part-time on the field and increasingly full-time off the pitch. Add up the time spent by the dozen or so people that most clubs rely on and it will probably equate to two to three people working full-time. It’s not easy and if the demands continue, it basically means that non-league will continue to be the domain of retired and semi-retired men (i.e. people with time on their hands).

So what’s the answer? Get innovative or get retro.  Scrap the programme, introduce the team-sheet concept and leverage off the power of the internet when it comes to advertising revenue. Football clubs have been slow in utilising the internet for advertising purposes – the website will always come out on top if you analyse the stats. If a 300 crowd yields 60 programme sales, the total exposure for the season, at best, is 1,800 people. An advert on the web can be seen by 20,000 people a week, and that’s conservative. No contest – you just have to persuade local businesses that the internet is the way ahead.

One way of exploiting the internet is to introduce apps that supporters can plug into on their smart phones. The really tech-savvy clubs could time the launch of information so fans can access the line-ups, scores and team news before the kick-off.

Another Heath Robinson idea is to bring back the sandwich board concept as a fun alternative. A willing horse could be led around the pitch with a board displaying the teams. It could become a pre-match and half-time ritual! A sort of human App!

Whatever happens, sales will go down and costs up. Let’s stop pretending we’re all Manchester United and embrace the low-cost  technological age. Programmes 2.0, I say.

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