The fourth annual Summer Bash has been and gone, and there are some calling for the concept to be scrapped.
This is an absolutely ridiculous suggestion.
Let’s get straight into it. First things first, the Championship is criminally neglected of television coverage. Anyone who disagrees with that only needs to witness the drama that unfolded in the game between Halifax and Featherstone or the one between Toronto and Leigh. If that’s not enough, have a watch of the sheer quality on display between London and Toulouse.
The only coverage the Championship currently gets on Sky is the Summer Bash weekend, with all six games being shown. By getting rid of the Blackpool bonanza, you deprive the competition of any Sky coverage all year round. How on earth can that be beneficial? For this reason alone, the suggestion is absolutely preposterous.
Secondly, there is a sport-wide belief that the game lacks events. This is an opinion that the sport, both at governing and club level, is well aware of. So what would be the purpose of getting rid of one of the game’s annual events? Nothing.
The root of the sudden call to cull the Bash appears to be the result of a drop in attendance from last year’s event.
What on earth did anyone expect?
Since last year’s Bash, Bradford, Hull KR and Oldham have left the competition and been replaced by Leigh, Toronto and Barrow. If we’re talking ballpark figures, the three new clubs at this year’s event probably attracted the same amount of fans as the Bulls did in 2017 combined. It was inevitable that this year’s attendance was going to go down. To use it as ammunition to call for the event to be retired is lazy.
People have said the sight of empty tangerine seats in mass is a bad image for the sport. How does it differentiate from the half-empty stadiums seen in Super League every single week? It doesn’t, but that seems to be conveniently ignored. Less than 2,000 people attended a Challenge Cup game between two Super League sides earlier this month, but almost 8,000 turning up on one day in Blackpool is damaging the credibility of the sport. Go figure.
Let’s not ignore the argument that the shenanigans featuring Toronto and Leigh was unwanted attention. This, of course, cannot be argued, but to use it as a reason to bash the ‘Bash’? What utter, utter nonsense. Should we bring an end to the Challenge Cup too following the unsavoury scenes between Featherstone and Hull FC?
Instead of bemoaning the sparse crowd, let’s instead look at what could be done to improve it moving forward.
Having the event just one week after Magic Weekend has always seemed ill-advised. Attending these weekend events comes at a cost, and not everyone, yet alone every family, can afford back-to-back weekends away. Naturally, Magic Weekend will be the preference of the majority, and that inevitably has some level of impact on the attendance every year.
How about incentivising ticket packages. The idea of getting a good value bundle package for both Magic and Bash would almost certainly persuade more supporters to head to Blackpool.
The obvious solution would be to raise the profile of the competition. The obvious way to do that is to get it a regular spot on TV. Not only would that provide the Championship additional exposure it so desperately needs and deserves, but the prospect of TV time would be of interest to sponsors. More commercial interest means more revenue, more revenue means more potential for improvement within clubs.
The clubs have a part to play in this too. Without singling out any particular club, generally, media and marketing in the competition is not up to standard. That’s not a dig at the volunteers who do a tremendous amount of work between them, but at the clubs themselves for not properly investing in that area of their business. Of course, most will argue they can’t afford, but history suggests that investing properly in marketing has positive results.
But regardless of that, things have to change.
There’s a section of the game that doesn’t believe the Championship matters, and it absolutely stinks. The belief that Summer Bash doesn’t belong in the calendar not only shows a blatant ignorance to the fans who enjoy the event every single year, but also the benefits the event brings to the competition.
The sad reality is that, in the eyes of some, nothing outside of Super League matters. It’s an elitist and snobbish mentality that is short-sighted and fails to recognise the relevance the competition has in the makeup of the current structure.
Newsflash: Championship does matter, and the sport in this country is a damn sight better for it.