On Saturday, our supporters will flock to Emirates Stadium for the first league game of the campaign, with many excited to pick up a refreshed version of a matchday staple.
The official programme has had its annual revamp, with all new features, a redesign and added extras to entertain supporters throughout the afternoon and beyond.
But have you ever thought about how the programme is produced, and the effort that goes in behind the scenes to deliver a quality, informative product that supporters cherish? Editor Andy Exley is on hand to provide some insight into his pre-season preparation:
I’ve been the programme editor since the start of the 1999/2000 season – I arrived with Thierry! – but I think this has been the most difficult summer we’ve had as a programme team.
Every summer we work through a process of trying to conceive new features and different concepts, as well as working on a new design and I’d like to think that over the last two decades the programme has evolved quite successfully. We’ve included all sorts of things: sticker albums, ‘table toppers’, posters, competitions and even glow-in-the-dark programmes… the list goes on.
This summer we found ourselves with a different problem. The production price of the programme has edged up very slightly over the years – 2% increase one year, maybe 3% the next, but nothing that we couldn’t manage in our overall budget. However, there’s been a revolution in print – and not in a good way.
Paper costs, energy prices and significant other factors have changed the landscape completely for printers, so we were faced with a cost for the production of the programme that was a rise more than tenfold of anything we had ever experienced before.
After some difficult discussions, we decided that we had to put the retail price up to £4; our first increase since the 2013/14 season. So we set ourselves the challenge about how we could ‘add value’ back into the programme to try and sweeten the pill for our readers.
Since losing the poster in the programme pre-lockdown, we’ve had plenty of requests to reinstate it so we worked out a way of bringing it back. Readers now have to pull the poster away from the central section of the programme, like they had to 20 years ago funnily enough. And the poster is bigger and better than ever – we think you’ll love it!
We’ve also listened to supporters and reinstated the Captain’s Notes this season, with our new skipper Martin Odegaard, who we’re confident will give some great insight from the dressing room over the course of the season.
What we also wanted to do was make the supporters more central to the publication. As well as the fans who appear in our Community and Foundation pages, we’re also collaborating with the Arsenal Shirt Collectors group and hearing about supporters' favourite shirts. We’re also asking fans to tell us about how they are trying to be more sustainable around their matchdays.
Speaking of which, another of our challenges was to ensure we continued our sustainability work through the programme. Last season we offset all the carbon cost of the production of the programme by planting 12,500 trees in Kenya at our very own ‘Arsenal Forest’. In fact, we’ve planted 16,000 because our fantastic supporters have come on board and bought into the scheme – it’s a brilliant gift for the Arsenal fan who has everything (buy a tree in the Arsenal Forest).
The scheme won an award at the Football Business Awards and we’re determined to keep the Forest growing in 2022/23 and beyond, telling the stories of some of the 70 people we are helping to support in Kenya in the process.
So what else is new? Well, we also made another difficult decision to shift to another matchday distributor. You’ll notice how we sell the programmes has changed this season and we’re confident we can provide a more comprehensive service for every fan visiting Emirates Stadium – if you want a programme (which is, of course, the perfect memento of matchday!) you’ll definitely be able to find one.
Lastly, one of the few benefits of lockdown was finding a way to provide a far more efficient subscription model, creating our own ‘programme portal’ and ensuring they are posted out to supporters at least a day before games.
This continues in 2022/23 and for all those many thousands of supporters unable to get to Emirates, the programme subscription is a great way of having a really collectable piece of matchday – something the club has been producing since we came into existence in the 1880s.
The subscription includes every home game, so you could end up getting 30+ programmes delivered to your door – let’s hope we have that many matches! We even have a Women’s programme – more on that on the eve of the WSL season – subscription for the first time this season, so keep an eye out for that too.
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