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Programmes in the Digital Age

Date: 29th September 2017

Words By Robin Hall

Is a football programme, a souvenir, a magazine or a book of memories? For many fans can be either one or all of these. The match day programme has been published by clubs since as long as football matches have been played. Yet there has been a decline in sales so much so that some clubs including SPFL clubs no longer print them. In the ever increasing digital age the humble programme is no longer necessary reading.


A football programme used to be a simple team sheet with some stats and local advertisements. Over the years it has changed to include more opinion pieces from players, and historical articles. The internet and social media are now the favoured channels for clubs to communicate with fans. This makes sense as we live in a 24 hr media culture where fans have a thirst for information and clubs are able to use this to their advantage communicating and interacting with fans on twitter.  In essence clubs now use the match day programme as a small revenue earner.


There are some fans that live by the motto if you don’t have a programme you weren’t at the game. But these fans are probably a dying breed. There are a few anoraks out there that still collect football programmes merely for the sake of collecting sake. But for the fan it is more a keep sake, a souvenir to show you were there when your team won its first trophy or avoided relegation on the last day of the season. Recently whilst clearing out my flat I came across some old programmes stored in a shoe box. These were from my childhood, my first match, my first cup final, the legends, the old grounds. It was sheer nostalgia. Two hours lost in thoughts and memories. The programme is merely a key to unlocking those memories. These matches are probably on You Tube somewhere.  TV can capture the moment but they cannot record the physical feeling you have at that moment.  Scottish football fans do like to look at the past as our game was in a healthier state then. The football programme helps fans remember the glory years and provides a hope that they may return.

The programme is still for many a part of the match day experience. Although in recent years it has become an expensive extra to your admission fee. The standard of programme does vary greatly across the divisions. Clubs depending on there resources produce different styles and formats of programmes. Many of the larger clubs will essentially produce a magazine including articles from mainstream journalists. The smaller clubs will focus on stats and local advertisements. But these differences are reflected in the price of the publication. The main resource in producing a programme is probably the time of the editor and contributors.  And it this strain on resources where clubs may make commercial decision to stop producing programmes as they can communicate the same information online.  A growing amount of clubs have developed digital copies of the programme. Some fans though will always want that commemorative publication.


Clubs in England and Germany have been innovative in producing programmes as it competes with the digital media outlets. In Germany a programme is free and distributed at the ground by the clubs. It is a fairly thin publication but list players and some stats but serves a memorabilia publication. A growing number of English clubs have developed digital programmes which are available to buy online trying to cut production costs. Other clubs have experimented in producing £1 booklets on match day and produced a monthly magazine with more detailed articles. Clubs are continually trying to improve how they can communicate and engage with fans through media outlets and the match day programme is one such channel.


The move to digital match day programmes is inevitable as the cost of publication will be minimal. But the traditionalist in me thinks and hopes that the printed form will always be part of the match day experience. The digital age is here to stay and football clubs and fans need to embrace this. But much like the rise and fall of the E- book, the printed book was able to survive and thrive as people craved something tangible. Clubs need to explore how to produce a match day programme that meets fans needs, as it part of our football culture.


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