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Get yer offishul programme here

To many football supporters, buying a programme is still regarded as an integral part of their match day routine, a must-have, but there is plenty of evidence that this is a tradition in retreat. Even clubs who have enjoyed increased attendances in recent seasons have acknowledged a downward trend in programme sales, mirroring the seemingly inexorable decline in hard-copy newspaper circulation.

On 23 September 2022, Bradford City confirmed that they had sold the magnificent total of 14,190 season tickets, a record for English football’s fourth tier. A few weeks earlier, the Bantams confirmed they would no longer be publishing a match-day programme. It was not a popular decision amongst certain sections of the large Valley Parade support, but the West Yorkshire club asserted that producing a programme was no longer financially worthwhile.

Other clubs, much smaller than Bradford City, continue to take a different view. They argue that as long as the match programme continues to make a contribution to club coffers, it is well worth the effort. So what does it take to produce a successful and profitable matchday programme?

Patently there must be sufficient purchasers and advertisers to ensure that a club’s programme makes some level of operating profit. The number of much-appreciated advertisers must be carefully balanced with the inclusion of interesting information and thought-provoking articles. If there are too many adverts, sales may drop; if circulation falls, the appeal to remaining advertisers is likely to diminish.

A programme’s contents should try to avoid duplicating what is available elsewhere, particularly on any of the club’s other media platforms. It’s horses for courses; what’s the point of a programme trying to compete with the official website’s much more immediate news feeds? The challenge everywhere in Scottish football is to provide a product which differs from the official website, perhaps by considering topics in a more reflective matter. In short, a good read which is worth buying.

Producing a programme requires an enthusiastic editorial team and a group of volunteer contributors who must either be talented writers and/or dedicated researchers, able to produce unique and varied content. Additionally, these columnists and statisticians must be reliable, delivering what they promised within the stated production timescales – at least eighteen times per season. A minimum of one photographer to provide player photographs and match images is also an absolute necessity.

Most match programmes contributions are collated on Monday and Tuesday, proofed on Wednesday, printed on Thursday or Friday, then the editorial team start all over again for the next home match. It can be a relentless process at times, but for those involved it’s usually a labour of love…a devotion to their club.

Those who pull together programmes at Scotland’s smaller clubs do so because they believe it’s more than a revenue stream. The consider it’s an important link between their team and its supporters, each edition a piece of club history and for many a collector’s item. I encountered such a collector at an Arbroath match earlier this season. He saw I was also reading the Lichties’ programme and that was his opening: “I’ve always bought a programme. It’s usually my only source of information about the opposition. It’s always nice to look back at old ones, and the memories they can conjure up. You can’t look back at a webpage!”

After all the hard work involved in programme production, it is important to ensure programme sellers are visible to the fans, that the cash collected precisely reflects the sales figures and with tightening margins, the number of complimentary copies for club guests and others is not excessive.

It is equally pivotal to accurately estimate the correct print run for specific matches as there’s nothing so disheartening at the end of the season as having to dump unsold copies in a skip. Football programmes have been lovingly produced for many years; some of us hope that will never change.

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