Smaller stadium? Derbies? Nines? Magic Weekend debate as questions remain over future

Josh McAllister
Magic Weekend, Castleford Tigers, News Images

Photo by Craig Cresswell/News Images.

There has been much debate over the future of Magic Weekend, with the 2023 edition previously believed to have been the last in its current format.

Global sports media giants IMG had plans to axe the event upon their 12-year strategic partnership with rugby league.

But clubs and prospective broadcasters, including existing rights holders Sky, are believed to be keen to see the Super League showcase event remain with ongoing talks about its future, with 2024 becoming increasingly likely.

A total of 63,269 attended the 16th edition of Magic Weekend in 2023, with a record 17,000 inside St James’ Park for the opening fixture between Hull KR and Salford on the Saturday.

The date and venue of potential future editions remain unclear, with Newcastle seemingly unlikely to host its eighth edition in 2024.

Love Rugby League editor James Gordon and journalist Josh McAllister discussed the future of Magic Weekend earlier this week, its current format and potentially moving stadiums.

Most Super League supporters are keen to see the weekend stay, with confirmation expected at the end of this month according to managing director of RFL commercial, Rhodri Jones.

Smaller Stadium?

There is a case of hosting the weekend at smaller stadiums, although football stadiums may end up being out of the picture completely in the future with the expected shifting of the Challenge Cup final to earlier in the season.

Newcastle United’s home holds a capacity of 52,000, with 36,943 inside for Saturday – the fourth highest for a single day – and 26,326 on Sunday, continuing the trend of lower crowds on the second day.

There is a debate to be had if the Super League showcase event should be moved to a smaller stadium in order to target a sell-out, as well as looking impressive on the Sky Sports cameras.

Many supporters shared their desire to see Magic Weekend remain in Newcastle, while other suggestions including cities such as Birmingham, Coventry and a return to Manchester. 

Everton’s new ground was also thrown into the mix, with the new Premier League stadium currently still under construction.

I for one would be keen to see Magic Weekend move on from Newcastle in order to keep the event fresh.

The midlands would see Super League expand into a different area, with Midlands Hurricanes currently flying the flag for rugby league, although stadiums may be the issue.

Molineux Stadium only hosts 32,000, while the home of Birmingham City is even lower at around 29,000.

Villa Park holds 42,000, which would be more realistic to aim for a sell-out. 

Alexander Stadium of course wouldn’t cause a problem with the football calendar as an athletics pitch, but the 18,000 capacity would be far too small for Magic Weekend.

Love Rugby League editor James Gordon said: “You need to have a stadium of a suitable size. Take Bramall Lane in Sheffield, that’s probably a good size realistically for the people that go. But you almost feel like you need a bigger stadium because you want to sell more tickets.

“In Bramall Lane, with about 30,000 capacity, you’re basically looking at a near sell-out. You could say that looks better.”

Derbies? Nines?

2023 saw fixtures take place based on last year’s league positions. But some supporters have called for derbies to be reintroduced.

Another suggestion opted for the opening weekend of the season.

But editor James thinks basing games on league fixtures is the fairest solution to match organising.

“It has to be, that’s the fairest ways of doing it,” he commented.

“That was always one of my historic reasons for not liking Magic Weekend.

“We mentioned Widnes, they played the likes of Warrington. St Helens play Wigan and Warrington play Widnes, and with all due respect to Widnes, it’s almost like Saints and Wigan are thinking ‘I wish we could play Widnes instead of each other’.”

“What about changing the format?”

The NRL introduced a nines competition in 2014, held in Auckland until 2017, with Perth playing hosts in 2020.

Using Magic Weekend for Challenge Cup fixtures is another idea, although would prove a logistical nightmare with fixtures and teams only decided during the season.

James continued: “What about changing the format? Challenge Cup being an option.

“But what about a nines competition? A Warrington fan, for example, can see your team two or three times on one day and potentially the next. It encourages staying around and possibly dipping in and out.”

But good luck getting Super League clubs to buy into an entirely new competition, with the stretches of an already-long Super League competition.

Although, under IMG’s new proposals, loop fixtures may be a thing of the past.

“Surely Super League clubs have to buy into it, whatever it is. Super League clubs either want magic Weekend to be a success or they don’t,” James continued.

“If IMG decide that it should be nines, then Super League clubs should put their strongest teams in.

“I’m not a massive fan of nines, but for me, being able to do multiple games is a good way of trying to keep fans in.”

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below. 

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