Editor’s Blog: Is The Game Program Becoming a Relic?

You can add the University of Wisconsin to the list of major NCAA schools that are doing away with something that’s been a part of athletics for more than a century.

The game program is about to become a dinosaur.

Wisconsin has decided to stop publishing a game day magazine for basketball, football and the other sports where they have typically been sold.  At a typical home football game, university officials say they’re only selling about 2,000 programs to a crowd of nearly 80,000 fans.

Instead, the school will put more emphasis on its Varsity online publication, which includes feature stories, team rosters, stats and other information about the Badgers.   They will publish a flip card that includes rosters and stats and sell that for $2.

Notre Dame and other schools have already made a similar move to jettison the printed program.

Wisconsin digital programSchools apparently believe fans would rather get their information in a digital fashion, calling it up via tablet or smartphone.  The move goes hand-in-hand with pro and college teams outfitting their stadiums with wi-fi, charging stations and other convenience of a more electronic era.

I guess it makes sense.  After all, if not many fans are buying the program and it’s costing more than the benefit a school gets out of it, you can’t blame them for switching directions.  We are in the digital age and I’d bet that close to three-quarters of the crowd on a typical game day Saturday in Madison carries a smartphone into Camp Randall Stadium.  Programs were more useful back in the days before electronic scoreboards and hand held devices.

NFL Championship Program 1934Still, I’m sad about this trend—one I first spotted at a big league ballpark, where the ‘game program’ was more like a pamphlet.  It was free—I’ll say that—but as someone who only goes to an average of  about one game a year, the program was always my way of remembering the experience.  And yes, I liked to keep score.  Apparently few people do that anymore.

I’m wondering what the future holds for publications that aren’t labeled ‘historic’.  A 1927 World Series program will always be desirable but I wouldn’t be surprised to see any post-1950s paper publications really struggle from here on out.  Many will become digitized; others will be lost as fans learn everything they need to know about the event from the internet.

It’s too bad.  Thumbing through an old program, to me, has often been more fun than a lot of card sets.  The ads that now look so outdated, the pictures, the stories, the concession prices; all of them tell a story. All of it is fun. And you can’t hang an iPad on your wall or put it in a frame, either.

I get it.  I love what technology has brought us in the sports realm and it’s getting better all the time.  I don’t buy as many publications as I once did either.  I’ve got a complete run of Sports Illustrated back to 1954 that I’d like to find a buyer for before no one wants them.

I’m just hoping the digital takeover doesn’t create a generation that won’t know the fun of sitting in a recliner, happily turning the physical pages of a little piece of sports history they were once a part of.