THE original idea of Magic Weekend was to give Rugby League supporters the opportunity to travel to a venue that is not normally associated with our sport in order to enjoy a weekend of action in each other’s company, mixing sport with social interaction and reinforcing the family image of the game.
Magic Weekend has been held 16 times and on twelve of the first thirteen occasions it was played in the month of May, the sole exception being in 2011, when it was taken to Cardiff as the opening round of the season in February.
It wasn’t held in 2020 because of Covid, but for the three years after that it was held in Newcastle in September (2021 in the Covid-affected season), July (2022) and June (2023).
The concept works best, in my view, at the height of summer when there is no league football being played.
Magic Weekend was first held in Newcastle in 2015 on the last two days of May. St James’ Park was an instant hit with supporters, with a record aggregate attendance of 67,788, a record single-day crowd of 40,871 on the Saturday and an estimated benefit of £4.2 million to the Newcastle economy.
The total attendance rose to 68,276 the following year and the Magic Weekend stayed at Newcastle for four successive years until it was moved to Liverpool in 2019, with the fans discovering that Anfield isn’t centrally placed in Liverpool as St James’ Park is in Newcastle. Fortunately, Super League clubs realised their mistake and returned to Newcastle.
Unfortunately, St James’ Park isn’t available in mid-August and the clubs had to find an alternative venue. Bearing in mind that the football season will have started by then, it appears that Elland Road was probably the only option.
The dilemma has arisen because the RFL has moved the Challenge Cup Final to June next year, which effectively achieves two things – reducing the status of the Challenge Cup to that of a pre-season competition, while taking away the raison d’etre of Magic Weekend.
And it’s not just that the Challenge Cup and Magic Weekend are at the wrong times of the season, or that Magic is in the wrong place. It’s that the fixtures that have been announced will make the event totally unbalanced from an attendance point of view.
The bigger games are on Saturday (Wigan v St Helens, Warrington v Leeds), while the matches with less drawing potential for the most part are on Sunday.
Unfortunately I can’t see many people, other than the two clubs’ dedicated supporters, hanging around on the Sunday to watch the final game between Castleford and Huddersfield.
Surely the object should be to build to a climax, with the top game between teams 1 and 3 (Wigan and St Helens) being the final game on Sunday.
As it stands, I will be pleasantly surprised if the Sunday attendance reaches 20,000 in total.
I would suggest that it would make a lot of sense to transfer the Sunday matches to Headingley, where at least the stadium wouldn’t look empty and where the seating arrangements and hospitality are far more comfortable, with plenty of good pubs nearby.