So attendances were down at the annual Magic Weekend? Hardly surprising given the economic climate, the fact it was staged in Scotland and all seven games were televised.
A plethora of empty blue seats, a distinct lack of atmosphere and a general negativity over the whole event is a cynics dream. Reading various other websites, I must be the only one who believes the Magic Weekend needs to stay.
Was it a success? Well, those who went to it certainly enjoyed themselves and Edinburgh is beautiful city with lots to do. It all depends on whether your glass is half-empty or half-full.
A lot of people complain about the lack of media coverage that League gets compared to Union. The above factors indeed provide enough ammunition for the sister code, especially when they can get big attendances for a match between the Navy and the Army.
But the reason for this is that rugby union has big event days; rugby league in stark contrast has very limited big event days. Union has the World Cup, the Guinness Premiership, the Heiniken Cup, Six Nations and Super 14 to name just a few. The list is endless.
In comparison, what does rugby league have? Opening fixtures, Magic Weekend, Challenge Cup Final, Grand Final and Four Nations when it is held in this country. A sparse list, and a list that within itself provides enough reasons as to why rugby league is far behind in coverage and the eight ball within the national media. Remove the Magic Weekend and we have even less to promote the game. We will be shooting ourselves in the foot.
CHANGING THE FACTORS FOR SUCCESS?
So how can we change this event and make it more successful? For me, there are several key factors that need changing. Primarily, these are location and stadium size although both arguably come hand-in-hand. The other suggestions are my own personal preferences and ideas.
Location is paramount for both attendances and media coverage and therefore, I have chosen three locations I would consider perfect and that I feel rugby league should be targeting to expand within the UK. They are Birmingham, Nottingham and East Anglia. The problem with the latter two, however, is lack of rugby league interest and also proximity to the heartlands.
Birmingham is the ideal location, therefore, as it allows for Crusaders to bring more fans, Harlequins fans can commute from London and it is within easy reach of the heartlands. Similarly, it is much easier logistically for Catalans fans to get to the event.
It also offers two quality stadiums in Birmingham City’s St. Andrews and Aston Villa’s Villa Park stadium. The combined capacity of these stadiums is just over 70,000, which makes it perfect (and comparable) for the number of fans that the RFL will anticipate to go.
The random draw was interesting but nothing spectacular and the weekend would have a bigger draw if it was returned to derbies. A lot more people would want to go to an event that features Hull versus Hull KR or Wigan versus St Helens than Hull against Harlequins.
One aspect that I do dislike and many other people have commented on is the timings of the games and the back-to-back games. Edinburgh was notably cold and did not appeal for many people that went.
Therefore, I would make the Magic Weekend like this:
12:30PM – HARLEQUINS V CATALANS (ST ANDREWS)
2:30PM – HUDDERSFIELD V WARRINGTON (ST ANDREWS)
4:30PM – HULL V HULL KR (ST ANDREWS)
8PM – LEEDS V BRADFORD (VILLA PARK)
1PM – CRUSADERS V SALFORD (ST ANDREWS)
3PM – CASTLEFORD V WAKEFIELD (ST ANDREWS)
6PM – WIGAN V ST HELENS (VILLA PARK)
Saturday’s programme would start earlier. This would not only encourage more fans to stop overnight on Friday but also coach companies, such as National Express, would offer special offers for weekend packages like they do for particular sporting weekends such as the FA Cup, Challenge Cup and Wimbledon, an area I feel has been neglected with this event.
Similarly, it would end later on both days to allow a break for people to refresh themselves after being sat for three games and also to encourage them to goto the final game.
The next question you are probably asking is about the change of location for the finale games of both days and the impact on ticketing this will have.
The capacity of St Andrews is 30,000 and therefore will probably sell out from the six teams playing there on Saturday. This is why I believe that all ticketing should be handled through the Rugby Football League who work out an allocation of both weekend tickets and day tickets to each club.
Those playing on Sunday would naturally receive a lower tally of weekend tickets so that Saturday’s teams gain priority for their own fixture but would be compensated for this through an higher allocation of day tickets on Sunday. The RFL would also sell their own tickets for non-Super League fans or for those fans who could not get such tickets through their own club.
As derbies and also by virtue of fact that it is played at a larger ground, the teams playing in each finale over the weekend would receive more tickets to increase atmosphere and banter.
COMMUNITY AND CHARITY EVENT?
One idea that I have long contemplated is getting the local community involved. Local schools are paramount to any development the game has and this can also be a significant step of getting new fans involved in the sport.
So how about each club wears a specially made and designed kit by a designated school? This will be made by an official ‘kit-maker’ of the RFL, who, as recompense for the cost of each club’s kit produced, will receive free sponsorship at future events such as the Grand Final. Each Super League club is allocated a school and a representative, such as a player, will visit the said school and help the children to design this one-off kit.
These are then sent to the club who adjudicate on the top five and post them up on the Internet and in their match programme so that fans can decide on which they think the best is.
The winner of the design competition not only gets free tickets for their family (2 adults, 2 children) to one day but the other four competitors also get free tickets for them and one adult. Similarly, the fourteen chosen children get to be mascot for the event and run out onto the pitch with the club’s captain to cap a truly memorable occasion.
Each club is also allocated a charity, which will be their ‘sponsor’ for the day. Not only will the club be battling for their own pride but also to help their charity be victorious. Each of the players’ worn kits will be auctioned off after the match with all the money going to charity and each club will also have a limited edition amount to sell off themselves with each club sold one having 50% of the price given to charity.
The way I would do this is by making the weekend into a charity event. £1 from each programme sale goes to charity. Programmes are also made for sale via the internet. The final total is counted and split between each of the fourteen charities.
The same is then done for the tickets sold with £2 of each ticket sale going to charity. Furthermore, each charity will be invited to raise money outside the ground with buckets and leaflets about what they do.
The whole charity event is likely to increase popularity and publicity in the media. Similarly, fans are more likely to purchase these event tickets and goto the games knowing their money is going to help a special cause.
Local fans are also likely to consider purchasing tickets if they recognise that money will be going to something beneficial or a charity particularly close to their heart.
I expect this to have a mixed reaction and of course there are some logistical problems to overcome. But rugby league really needs to keep the Magic Weekend and start thinking outside of the box when it comes to these events.