“The concept of the Magic Weekend is all about taking the sport on the road and staging the Super League in prestigious and exciting cities.”
That is a quote from the RFL’s former director, Sally Bolton, when asked about the decision to take Magic Weekend to Edinburgh in 2009, following two hugely successful opening years for the event in Cardiff in 2007 and 2008. And who could argue?
After all, the Welsh Tourist Board were believed to have paid £500,000 to get Magic to the Millennium Stadium in 2007.
With a Welsh franchise in the shape of Crusaders on the way, it made complete sense – just like Edinburgh did a couple of years later, after they put their money where their mouths were.
Think of THAT Jordan Tansey try (sorry Bradford Bulls fans), Jacob Miller’s long-range drop goal in Newcastle, Catalans’ barely believable comeback, the tries from David Hodgson and Chris Green which won separate derbies for both Hull clubs.
Magic Weekend has created memories supporters of some clubs will never forget. All set amidst the backdrop of a world-class venue.
Is Super League’s Magic Weekend dragging its heels to an uninspiring end?
You know you’re onto a winner when Australia copy your idea entirely after all, but just as their Magic competition seems to be beginning to flourish, Super League’s is now dragging its heels to an uninspiring end.
IMG‘s resistance to the event suggested that this year’s Magic in Newcastle would be the final time it would take place – but the decision to move it to Leeds next year is surely now the final nail in the coffin for the concept on this side of the world.
Where to begin with a staggeringly unimaginative choice. For starters, there’s the host city. Leeds as a city is vibrant, diverse and a brilliant place to visit: but it’s smack bang in the centre of rugby league’s heartlands.
At least with the Etihad Stadium and Liverpool – and of course, the incredible St James’ Park – you were on the edge of the heartlands and still giving hope that Magic there could pick up interest in new areas.
Leeds, though, is rugby league country by its very nature. There’s also the prospect that some teams may already play as many as THREE matches in the city next year, if you factor in loop fixture and the possibility of being drawn against the Rhinos in the Challenge Cup.
What incentive does a third or fourth trip to Leeds carry for supporters who already spend plenty of money following their clubs?
The idea of Magic is it’s supposed to give fans a new experience.
Elland Road to be sixth different venue to host Magic Weekend
Then there’s Elland Road itself. Granted, it’s hosted some spectacular occasions; think of last year’s semi-final in the World Cup between Australia and New Zealand as a prime example.
But even the most ardent Loiner would admit that the surrounding areas don’t exactly have an abundance of things to offer the supporters who drift in and out of the venue between games, like you can at Magic.
Newcastle city centre was a quick stroll from St James’ Park: here, you’re closer to the M621 and a swathe of industrial estates than you are the centre of Leeds. Enticing, right?
Of course, we won’t know the specifics of the conversations held with potential host venues and it’s entirely possible that a large number of grounds said no to a mid-August Magic date, given how that’ll be around the time the new Premier League season begins.
May and June was much more palatable for football stadia, because it gave them time to ensure their pitches and facilities were ready for the new season, as well as a summer break. It was why Newcastle couldn’t carry on as hosts in 2024.
But if that was the case: say that. Otherwise, this looks like a confusing and backwards decision by those involved to take Magic Weekend to a venue that has absolutely no hallmarks of what the concept was created to do over 15 years ago.
Of course, a governing body is also entirely within its rights to change its mind about the overriding purpose and advantages of hosting an event.
But really, if Magic isn’t about allowing people in new, expansion areas the chance to watch the best players in the competition live in the flesh, or about bringing in a significant financial cash injection: then what actually is the point? It’s a question nobody seems to be able to answer. And again, if that is the rationale here: say it.
The opposite of ‘reimagining rugby league’
You suspect the only people that will actually be delighted by this are Leeds United, who’ll get a kick financially from whatever supporters turn up and spend money inside Elland Road.
And IMG of course, who will, in all eventuality, have the evidence and vindication that Magic is a concept past its sell-by date when Elland Road flatters to deceive as a host venue next year.
If they want Magic gone from the calendar, the better option – with hindsight, admittedly – would have been to can it this year, rather than drag it out in a venue nobody wants to be at.
You can try to triumph it all you want, and spin it however you like, but 2024’s Magic Weekend is almost as far away from what the event was devised to do as you’re likely to find.
There have been some unforgettable moments in Magic history, and some wonderful places to visit. But next year, if you’re going along, you’re probably going to be part of the last Magic Weekend.
It’s just a shame that an event with so much hype and excitement throughout its history will now, in all probability, fizzle out to a footnote.
Magic Weekend in Leeds? It doesn’t exactly scream ‘reimagining rugby league’, does it?