Magic Weekend’s move to Leeds met with almost universal condemnation

MAGIC WEEKEND will be held at Elland Road in Leeds next season – a decision met with almost universal condemnation among Rugby League supporters.

The event has been held every year (bar 2020, due to Covid) since 2007, in a range of major stadiums outside the sport’s heartlands.

After multiple early stagings at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium and Edinburgh’s Murrayfield, Magic was held for three consecutive years at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium.

In 2015, it was held for the first time at St James’ Park in Newcastle, which has proven a hugely popular location among fans.

Only once since, in 2019 when it was held at Liverpool’s Anfield, has it been played away from St James’ Park, which has recorded the three highest total attendance figures in Magic history and never attracted less than 60,000 over a full weekend.

But the RFL claims that the venue was unavailable this year, in explaining the decision to hold it in a Rugby League heartland for the first time.

With a capacity of around 37,000, Elland Road will be by far the smallest stadium to have hosted Magic Weekend, while supporters have also complained about issues like legroom and comfort at the ground.

The lack of bars or other notable places of interest around Elland Road to keep fans there for the weekend – the Beeston location is around a 50-minute walk to Leeds city centre – have also come in for criticism.

Magic Weekend will take place on August 17-18 next year, with fixtures including a derby between Wigan and St Helens.

The considerably later date – ten of the last eleven editions have taken place by early July, the exception being the Covid-disrupted 2021 season – is due to the Challenge Cup final being moved to June from next year, and the RFL’s desire to spread out the game’s major events across the calendar.

“Magic Weekend is going to have a different feel in 2024, as a result of the return to a date later in the summer to move away from the Challenge Cup final in June, and the non-availability of St James’ Park which has proved such a popular venue for the last three years,” said RL Commercial managing director Rhodri Jones.

“We are delighted to have agreed a deal with Leeds United FC to stage Magic Weekend at Elland Road, one of the biggest and best stadia in the north of England.

“(It has) a rich Rugby League history, having staged numerous big matches from the 1982 Challenge Cup final replay to the World Cup semi-final between Australia and New Zealand last year.”

Angus Kinnear, chief executive of Leeds United, said of hosting Magic: “It is great for us as a club and will also bring economic benefits to the whole city of Leeds.

“Everyone knows what a special venue Elland Road is and we’re all looking forward to another great spectacle.”

But Salford fullback Ryan Brierley said the sport “shoot ourselves in the foot time after time”, comparing the decision unfavourably to the NRL holding an opening-round double-header in Las Vegas next year.

Bradford halfback Jordan Lilley asked “how does this appeal to fans in any shape or form?” while former referee Richard Silverwood called the move “bizarre”.

Writing in League Express, Leeds and Great Britain legend Garry Schofield said: “As much as I love my home city, I have to say it’s an unappealing choice for something like Magic Weekend, and virtually everyone I’ve spoken to about it agrees,” adding that the RFL had “failed to read the room”.

Councillor Alex Hay, a cabinet member at Newcastle City Council, told Chronicle Live: “Naturally we are disappointed Magic Weekend won’t be returning to Newcastle next year.

“We have taken great pride in hosting the Rugby League event in our city for the past three years. It has consistently provided a memorable weekend for both supporters and our residents.”

Despite the NRL successfully adopting the concept in 2019, the game’s strategic partner IMG recommended ditching Magic Weekend from 2024.

However, clubs pushed back on this proposal, along with IMG’s demand for a shorter Super League season with the removal of all loop fixtures.

The result appears to be an unhappy compromise where Magic stays but in a form that, going by the initial reaction from supporters, will likely see it diminished in popularity.

The RFL made a similar move with the Championship’s version of Magic Weekend, the Summer Bash, in 2022, taking it from a popular venue in Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road to Headingley.

The result was a total weekend attendance of 10,763 in Leeds, the lowest in its history until this year when supporter apathy increased further and just 6,741 attended over two days at York’s LNER Community Stadium.

The RFL will hope that the fixtures on offer, particularly the Wigan-Saints derby, will help entice supporters to Elland Road.

That is the second of three matches on the Saturday, with Hull FC and promoted London Broncos opening the show before Warrington and Leeds close out the opening day.

On Sunday, Leigh play Salford and Catalans tackle Hull KR before the weekend finishes with an all-West Yorkshire clash between Huddersfield and Castleford.

Kick-off times are yet to be confirmed, and will only be known in December when tickets go on sale.

“The fixtures formula we have used for Magic since 2019, which involves seeding teams into three groups of four based on their 2023 performance, has produced an intriguing line-up of matches,” added Jones.

“With all clubs offering special pricing for Magic as part of their season tickets package, we would encourage fans to move quickly when tickets go on sale in the coming weeks.”

*Garry Schofield on Magic Weekend – page 9.