Continuing our summer features, Chris Williams looks at the future of the matchday programme.
Calm down everyone, the Oxford United programme isn’t going anywhere just yet.
Last week the EFL carried a motion that clubs would no longer HAVE to produce a match programme for every game. Previously the rules stated that the home club must produce a programme, no matter the size of the anticipated crowd, but now the change of rules just makes this optional. Cue screaming headlines saying that the programme is dead and outrage that such a rule should be passed.
Now, readers, I am possibly in a unique position to comment on this because last season I helped in some way on the match programmes of ELEVEN clubs, from League 1 right down to the one below National League South that I can never remember the name of! I have written in Wembley programmes, I have written in international programmes, and I have written in programmes in all of the top seven tiers of the football pyramid. Not written very well, obviously, but a contributor in some small way all the same.
So you would reckon I’d be against the change of rule, right? WRONG. My recommendation to the board was that OUFC should vote in favour of the rule change. Like a big baldy turkey voting for Christmas, surely?
Don’t call me Shirley but do let me explain. The vote was NOT about killing the programme at any club. It was whether clubs should have the option, which is a different notion. We are very fortunate at Oxford United that our programme is both a thing of beauty and a thing of profit. We make money from the sale of programmes and when you add in the income from advertisements then we would be daft to take away this particular revenue stream.
Plus we have people behind the scenes who fully understand that a match programme is about more than money. Mick Brown and I have previously edited the programme and Martin Brodetsky, the current editor, is a long-time collector and programme enthusiast. I can’t claim to be that: I have thousands of programmes in my loft from games I have been to but don’t feel the need to be a completist.
All three of us know that if your programme is well designed, contains interesting articles and brings you news from all areas of the cub then it is a great barometer of how the club is doing. When I took it over in 2001 it was 32 pages and, sorry to say, kind of a reflection of where the club was at that time. We grew it to 84 pages, we perfect bound it, we added posters and we got some great contributors involved.
Most importantly, we got the lovely people at Alchemy and Bishops in on to help us as well. They share our passion, and let’s not kid ourselves: programmes are a complete labour of love. They mean 24-hour shifts, sleepless nights, seemingly impossible deadlines and they mean frazzled-sounding phone calls, three hours after they have gone to print, when one of us spots a glaring error. I knew I had called a previous Chairman Kevin instead of Kelvin for 48 hours but was hoping he wouldn’t spot it. He did. There ARE typos in match programmes. All of them, at every club. Write on Monday and Tuesday, proof on Wednesday, print and be damned on Thursday then start the one for the next Tuesday night… It is a relentless, grinding process.
So I fully understand why some clubs want the option not to produce one. We have Martin for 20 hours a week, 90% of which is spent on the programme. We have me overseeing (I say helping, he says interfering) and we have our fantastic contributors both within the club and externally. I saw an article last week hammering another League 1 club because programme contributors hadn’t been paid for months. Come and talk to ours: they haven’t been paid EVER! If you want to get involved it is for the love of the club. No, for the love of the programme, but never for financial gain.
Other clubs are less fortunate. Their media ‘team’ may well be just one person. If a programme takes 20 hours then that’s half a week where that person cant do the website, the iFollow interviews, the media relations or any of the other jobs that you pick up along the way. Programme sales are falling all the time, so imagine doing all that work and then ordering fewer than 500 copies…
And that, readers is why we as a club voted to allow clubs to make their own choice.
STOP SHOUTING AT THE SCREEN. In reality very few clubs will opt out. But crucially it does not mean that Oxford United are going to stop making programmes. It does not mean that we will ever take up the option, even for one game. We just wanted clubs to be able to decide for themselves; if they lose money then they stop. Their call.
We love our programme and have been working all summer to make it even better.* It’s our 125th anniversary so we are adding a history section. There will be a pull-out kids programme because we want to see if young fans can be enticed back to reading programmes. There will be free posters and we’re even likely to increase the quality of the paper. We also have a totally new and unique idea which we’re not telling you yet!
None of it is going to push the price up beyond £3 this season either. That has been the price for 10 years now and will have to go up at some stage, but for now we want to give value for money, great content, dazzling design and something that the whole club can be proud of.
People get out of the habit of buying programmes and perhaps the publicity over the last few weeks may make fans think about them in a new light. All of the profit from a programme goes to the club, you get a decent read on the loo for days after, and we would love everyone who reads this article to get back into the habit of buying a programme every now and again
Ultimately we are in your hands. Or not, as the case may be...
The summer features are an experiment to see whether longer articles like this should stay within the match programme or appear online. Let us know your thoughts.
*That’s the royal ‘We’. Mr Brodetsky is working on the programme, Mr Williams is on a lilo adrift in the Mediterranean. Probably without a hat.