Magic Weekend appears to be getting a stay of execution for 2024 while chiefs try and figure out the best format for it continue in the new IMG era.
The format of every Super League team playing in a regular season league match appears to be most at risk, even if Magic Weekend as a concept remains.
It was thought that 2023 would be the last edition of Magic Weekend, after IMG recommended its removal from the calendar.
They instead wanted to focus on creating some new events that would assist with their 12-year strategy to re-imagine rugby league.
As much as Magic Weekend has become a popular part of the rugby league calendar, it doesn’t come without problems.
Swathes of empty seats at big venues no matter what the game don’t look particularly good for the game live on TV when the event is being branded as one of the showcases of the sport.
The imbalance it creates in the fixture list, the amount of work and focus it takes to hold and of course the location are other headaches that dominate Magic Weekend discussions.
There have been tentative suggestions as to what to replace the current format with, including a possible 9s competition or even hosting a round of the Challenge Cup as the Magic Weekend.
Like many influential rugby league personalities in the past week or so, Leigh owner Derek Beaumont was asked about his opinion on the event.
He told BBC Radio Merseyside: “Magic Weekend is great, it gets everybody in the same area and it showcases that rugby league fans can be civilised and have banter with each other and all wear their club colours, and that’s the energy and positivity to it.
“Fundamentally where it fails is that largely people go in for their team’s games and then go. So you don’t get enough people that stick at it as an event. So although you get 50,000 fans over the weekend, you don’t ever get the an atmosphere of 50,000 people.
“For me, it’s how you fix that up. I don’t think you ditch it, you fix it.
“Another fundamental problem is it skews the league. You would have thought that we’d be closest to Wakefield being the promoted team, but now that doesn’t look really fair. Is it fair that Wigan play Catalans, who are both sat two points above us in the table?
“For me, you have to make it a separate event. Whether it’s a 9s and/or you make it a competition that has a winner over the two days in the end, and everybody plays multiple games so there’s a reason to be in there, there’s a reason to have a carnival atmosphere, there’s a reason to have entertainment in and amongst the different games.
“You’d have intervals and on the second day, there’s prize money for the winner. The whole weekend becomes an event that you all need to be in there.
“It’s not skewing the league, you can still have the positives of the kit and weekend away, and somebody wins something at the end. That means there is another opportunity for hopefully a different club to get their hands on some silverware. That’s what I would do.”
It will be interesting to see just what IMG come up with for Magic Weekend.
The news that they had ceded to pressure from clubs about scrapping it for 2024 was a little worrying, just because it felt like they were bowing to the clubs which is the very thing that we were hoping their involvement would take us away from.
But if the clubs are adamant that it is important to them, at least going for one more year while the changes bed in, gives sometime to think up new ideas.
For what it’s worth, I completely agree that the big issue is the empty seats caused by the fact people largely stay for one game and a little bit of the games either side.
Magic Weekend needs to be about something that makes the majority of fans want to remain in the stadium for the key parts. You can still have things like the fanzone, but maybe have it for a specific interval in the day, rather than having it running throughout the day, when in reality, you want all the fans within the stadium bowl cheering on the exciting action.
The problem for me is that I’m not convinced by 9s. I don’t think the on-field product is the problem, although of course 9s would lend itself better to the multi-game format – as we saw with the 2019 9s World Cup which was a great watch.
It all boils down to one thing – club by in. We’ve had 9s competitions before, and clubs simply didn’t buy in and didn’t play the top players which everyone wants to see.
Would the 9s format provide the introduction to rugby league that we want Magic Weekend to be about? Would it attract the same interest from the existing fans as currently?
Those are the questions that IMG will hopefully answer.