By Nathan Bees
The Pirate, Rovers’ coveted matchday programme and deserved winner of Programme of the Year in years gone by, is a staple part of many Gasheads’ pre match experience.
With an impressive array of player interviews, opposition analysis, fan opinions and match reports, it’s 68 pages that are worth the £3 it costs to purchase... isn’t it?
Regular The Pirate readers would certainly suggest it is. In comparison to programmes of other clubs in the Football League that also charge £3, Rovers’ matchday offering is up there with the best and the money you pay is justified.
It’s an informative and enjoyable read and I don’t think anybody would argue against that, as the numerous accolades won would testify.
Unfortunately, like almost all other clubs, Rovers have found a drop in sales this season and the question everybody involved with its production is asking is: why? If there is a decrease in sales at Rovers where it is very highly rated by both home and away fans, it also prompts another, more broad question: do football programmes have as big a place in the modern game?
I wasn’t entirely sure myself. In terms of The Pirate I was worried it may have something to do with my articles as it’s my debut season! In all seriousness though I was intrigued, so I took to Twitter (@HarddToBeatt) to gauge the opinion of Gasheads and ask whether or not they buy a programme when they attend home games and football matches in general.
Plenty of comments described our programme as ‘top notch’ and ‘enjoyable to read’ in the build up to kick off, which is what I hoped would be the case.
There were other interesting reasons for buying a programme, some of which I hadn’t really considered before. One Gashead says he buys one not only because he rates ours highly but because his two sons are learning to read and they are interested in reading about Rovers more than anything else. I think that’s great to hear and his seven year old devours it from cover to cover, so he certainly makes sure his dad gets his money’s worth!
In general though, the overwhelming majority of people told me they bought programmes simply because it was ‘tradition’. They’d done so for as long as they could remember and it served as the perfect ‘memento’ to mark each football match they attended.
One Gashead, who is younger than me, revealed she has a collection in excess of 300, which is quite remarkable. I understand the value of the programmes as a keen collector myself. They hold memories and people just like to have something to show for their matchday experiences around the country. A programme is an ideal keepsake.
For all the positive critique that was tweeted about The Pirate, a few did explain that they don’t buy a programme at all. Not because they don’t enjoy it but because they ‘never’ have done and have no desire to begin doing so now.
Absolutely fair enough. However, with the greatest of respect, if the club never had their custom in the first place they aren’t responsible for the decrease in sales. What I wanted to discover was who no longer buys one but used to in years gone by. What were their reasons for giving up The Pirate?
The majority of those who responded felt they could no longer afford to spend their hard earned money on non essential luxury items - like the programme is to a modern day football fan.
In terms of the cost, Rovers can’t afford to lower the price because they would end up making losses each matchday, making it a non starter. Also, some people simply said it was becoming a ‘nuisance’ to carry as it doesn’t fit easily in to pockets.
It may seem trivial but it’s certainly something that needs to be considered and addressed as the club look to move forward with this. What that subsequently leaves us to ask is: ‘what happens next?’.
Well, programme editor Keith Brookman - who works tirelessly on a daily basis to produce the high standard of programme we’re lucky enough to have available to us - has been holding talks to ascertain the viability of producing a digital version of The Pirate, following in the footsteps of clubs like Arsenal, Burnley and Peterborough, to name but a few.
Talks were productive and this week it was confirmed by Keith that Rovers will officially make a digital version of the matchday programme available in time for the start of next season.
This means that no matter where you are in the world you can access The Pirate and enjoy all the features that would previously only have been available in print at the ground on a Saturday afternoon.
This is a step forward and demonstrates the desire to utilise the technology available to us and to help consumers in what is a popular market. It has been a success at the aforementioned clubs and should help some Gasheads reintroduce The Pirate to their matchday routine during 2013/2014.