Magic round sell out in NRL has Super League fans asking the same question

James Gordon
Super League Magic Weekend St James' Park Newcastle SWpix

Photo: Will Palmer/SWpix

The NRL’s Magic round kicked off on Friday to news that the three-day event at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane has sold out.

More than 130,000 people will turn out to watch a full round of NRL fixtures at the same venue over the weekend, with only Newcastle Knights not in action.

Doors opened at 4pm on Friday to see the games between Canterbury Bulldogs and Canberra Raiders (6pm KO), as well as Manly Sea Eagles and Brisbane Broncos (8.05pm KO).

That’s followed by three games on Saturday – New Zealand Warriors v Penrith Panthers (3pm), Cronulla Sharks v Dolphins (5.30pm) and Melbourne Storm v South Sydney Rabbitohs (7.45pm).

Then three further games are on Sunday – Wests Tigers v St George-Illawarra Dragons (1.50pm), Sydney Roosters v North Queensland Cowboys (4pm) and Gold Coast Titans v Parramatta Eels (6.25pm).

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said: “This will be the biggest Magic Round yet. Not only will there be well over 130,000 through the gates over the course of the next few days, more than 40 percent of the ticket holders will be from outside Queensland.

“This is a phenomenal result for the game. For the first time ever, all three days have sold out.”

Although Tourism and Sports Minister Stirling Hinchcliffe called Magic round “a Queensland innovation, made for Queenslanders in rugby league heartland”, the idea clearly came from Magic Weekend.

The NRL’s first Magic round took place in 2019 and has remained at Brisbane since, with a gap in 2020 due to COVID.

The best total attendance prior to this weekend was the 134,677 set across four days in 2019.

Why are Super League scrapping Magic Weekend?

Magic Weekend was born as a concept by the RFL in 2007, with the first event taking place at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. It has also been held in Edinburgh at Murrayfield, in Manchester at the Etihad Stadium and at Anfield, home of Liverpool FC.

This year will be the seventh year that the event has been held in Newcastle. The highest weekend attendance was set in Newcastle back in 2016, when 68,276 turned out to watch the six Super League games.

The apparent success of the NRL’s version of Magic Weekend has some fans questioning the wisdom of the plans to scrap it from the Super League calendar.

As part of IMG’s ‘re-imagining rugby league’ proposals, Magic Weekend is due to be shelved – with loop fixtures set to be removed.

But an alternative event could yet be brought in to replace it, with Challenge Cup games, a Nines tournament or even a brand new competition among the suggestions.

Andrew Foster tweeted: “The way Aussies have taken and run with the Magic concept will always be bittersweet for UK rugby league fans. Especially now we’re on the verge of putting it in the ‘too hard, too much effort’ bin, alongside ‘playing games off the M62’.”

JamesSaintLatic: “Was listening to Andrew Johns say how much credit the UK Super League deserves for the idea as I sat there thinking it’s suppose to be the last one.”

Thirten-a-Side: “A crime that the RFL are binning it.”

When is the 2023 Magic Weekend?

Super League returns to St James’ Park in Newcastle on the weekend of June 3/4, with three games on each day. Earlier this week, a new marketing push signified a month to go until the event.

Saturday 3 June 

Salford Red Devils v Hull KR (13:30)

Wigan Warriors v Catalans Dragons (15:45)

Leeds Rhinos v Castleford Tigers (18:00)

Sunday 4 June 

Wakefield Trinity v Leigh Centurions (12:30)

St Helens v Huddersfield Giants (14:45)

Hull FC v Warrington Wolves (17:00)

Magic Weekend verdict

Magic Weekend has had the longevity that many of the new ideas, expansion plans and structure changes haven’t, and it has become a favourite part of the calendar for many fans.

The trouble appears to be that no one is quite sure what the purpose of it is. Taking the games too far away from the heartland was seen as a risk in terms of ticket sales, while putting it somewhere with no follow up potential to watch live rugby league means there’s no chance of making the most of local interest.

Newcastle at least provides a little bit of help in that regard, though after seven years, you could argue it’s going stale.

If the event is just about having the same fans trekking up to Newcastle to watch the same teams, then maybe it’s more hassle than it’s worth. You get the impression that the amount of marketing that is put towards the event means that it needs to hit a break even point to be worthwhile, and that is effort that could be better placed on something that is more sustainable for future growth.

Having an odd round is less of an issue now due to the loop fixtures, though then they are hopefully removed soon, the Magic Weekend would then become an odd fixture in the calendar – which then creates controversy and integrity issues over who faces who, as that extra game could skew the league table.

There’s also the theory that the growth of Magic Weekend has been to the detriment of the Challenge Cup final, and it has certainly caused some scheduling headaches in terms of the cup final date. Previously late August, it was felt that the cup final was too close to the Grand Final, but bringing it back to its previous May slot would create too much friction with Magic Weekend.

It’s unknown just how much interest there is from cities wanting to host Magic Weekend, though the fact it went back to Newcastle after a failed switch to Liverpool, suggests that it will be difficult to establish it anywhere else.

One of the issues I’ve always had with Magic Weekend, and other multi-game events, is that it’s unlikely that a large portion of fans are going to stay for three games. That means empty seats aplenty on the TV footage, which doesn’t look great when you’re trying to sell this as your flagship event.

There’s no real way round that either in the current format. Perhaps a better model to follow is the rugby union one, where they take big games to big venues – such as Twickenham and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – and really push sales to create a big occasion.

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