The Championship had its moment in the spotlight last weekend, as all twelve clubs descended on Blackpool for the second ever Summer Bash.
And what a weekend it proved to be. Whether it was the fantastic curtain raiser in the shape of the iPro Cup final won by Keighley, the sensational contest between Bradford and Leigh or the terrific, and often hilarious supporters, it was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend for all involved.
The RFL have found a perfect home for the event in Blackpool, with the famous seaside resort accommodating everything needed to have a fantastic weekend, even if you aren’t so much an avid follower of the game.
However, for all the undisputed positives of the event, it was somewhat disappointing to see the majority of the games being played in half-empty stadiums.
A combined attendance of 15,912 was an increase of 531 on the year before. While the overall attendance isn’t particularly disappointing, the viewing habits at the Summer Bash are somewhat different to those at the Magic Weekend, despite the obvious comparisons between both events.
Excluding Bradford and Leigh, the remaining clubs appear to have a core following that blindly follow their team through the occasional high and the most severe of lows. They are fans of their club more than they are a fan of the game. While fair followings came from numerous clubs, namely Halifax and Featherstone, you would have found more of their fans on the various piers across Blackpool than you would have inside Bloomfield Road while the other two games were being played on Sunday.
That is quite different to Magic Weekend, where a substantial amount of fans from other clubs are keen spectators of the other matches taking place before taking in the delights of Newcastle. That can also be partly put down to the fact more neutral supporters will flock to the Super League’s weekend bonanza than the Championship’s equivalent.
There are obvious reasons why Magic Weekend is a more appealing proposition, a higher-quality standard being one of them. But the opportunity to see all 12 Super League teams at one venue over two days is just part of the success. It can be a day out, a weekend away or a short holiday. It can be whatever people want to make of it.
In that regard, the Summer Bash should attract more of the supporters that travel to Newcastle, but not many people can afford two consecutive weekends away, and that is one major problem the RFL should address.
When the Summer Bash should take place is a difficult nut to crack, however. Having it too early in the year runs the risk of bad weather while holding it in the height of summer takes away a good chunk of fans that have saved up to go on holiday. You could also run it at the end of August as the final round of the regular season, but then there is the danger that each game is a dead rubber. However, organising it the week after rugby league’s biggest weekend isn’t the answer. Perhaps the end of June, when students have finished exams and families have had a month to save up for another weekend away might be a better alternative.
The other hindrance the event fights is exposure. Other than the odd Challenge Cup game and a few in the Qualifiers, a large proportion of rugby league supporters don’t get to watch Championship teams on a regular basis, and as a result, it is hard for them to get emotionally invested in the games, the teams or the players.
With frequent coverage of the Championship on television, that would change. It is as competitive as Super League, if not slightly more, and most games that are played between two similarly matched teams are enjoyable to watch at any level of the game. More coverage would generate more interest, and Bloomfield Road wouldn’t showcase as many empty seats when the event arrives next year.
By the same token, the event is a massive success. The concept was considered to be a gamble when it was first announced, but the decision-makers at Red Hall have been vindicated by its early results.