Over the last 11 years, Magic Weekend has more than merited its place on the domestic rugby league calendar.
Having been as both a supporter and then in a working capacity, it is definitely one of the highlights of the year – although quite whether it’s overtaken the Challenge Cup final, as said by Roger Draper earlier this week, is certainly up for debate!
When the event moved to Newcastle for the first time in 2015, there was cautious optimism it would be the best fit for the event and the concept yet. A bumper crowd and a thoroughly enjoyable weekend suggested that was the case. 2016 was equally successful, and those two years now sit as the highest-attended Magic Weekends in history. Organisers are quietly confident this weekend will slot into the top three as well.
So clearly Newcastle is the ideal place for the weekend as things stand: I think most of us would agree on that. And if that is the case, the fact organisers are welcoming expressions of interest with a view to moving elsewhere in 2018 begs the following questions as the 11th edition of the event looms large on the horizon: what is the end game, and what is the legacy, for the Magic Weekend?
If the legacy was to eventually find the perfect venue and settle on it, it feels like we’ve already done that as a sport.
But surely there’s an argument to suggest that such an event like this – which, in all honesty, commands far more attention in the wider media than your average Super League round – has to have a greater impact on the sport’s profile?
What do the RFL want from Magic Weekend? What do those in charge of the sport want to look back in 20, 30 or even 50 years and say in response to the question: ‘why was Magic Weekend a good idea?’
Do we want to focus on boosting participation numbers – and ultimately the sport below the elite level – in the area Magic is visiting? If so, I would argue Cardiff and Edinburgh have not really seen any tangible difference in that regard, but there is something already in place to work with in Newcastle, with both Newcastle Thunder and Cramlington Rockets heavily involved in the whole weekend.
Do we want to get more people interested in rugby league? It’s great that tens of thousands of rugby league fans flock to a particular area for a whole weekend of action, but isn’t it perhaps more important how many people from the local area are watching the games live? Again, if that’s the case, the figures from Newcastle have been encouraging.
Is it about boosting the sport’s coffers financially? I don’t know the answer; all I know is Newcastle seems to work. The RFL will argue the event is best being moved cyclically due to interest waning about going to the same area time and time again. That may be true, but there has to be more of a reason than that to move it. As mentioned, this is a weekend like no other in comparison to the rest of the Super League season, so the sport has to be seen to be taking advantage of it.
I personally love Magic Weekend. I wouldn’t be disappointed if it stayed at Newcastle, and I look forward to it remaining a part of the rugby league calendar moving forward.
But with it seemingly finding its groove in Newcastle, moving it now leads you to wonder what the purpose of the event simply is for the long-term.