If Super League’s Magic Weekend is set to be canned, then Championship’s Summer Bash must be on life support.
The attendance at York’s LNER Community Stadium at the weekend did little for hopes of it being resuscitated and it may now be time for the concept to be shelved.
A total of 6,741 watched the eight games across the two days in glorious weather in York, less than half of the attendance recorded at Blackpool in all but one of its five years there.
The choice of York was always a peculiar one. Nice new ground it might be, but it is home to a Championship club and thus all fans will have a trip to go there already booked in.
Sunday’s total for four games involving eight clubs was less than what three Championship clubs average at home games.
Last year it was moved to Headingley and still registered a five-figure attendance, with Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road again unavailable.
What is the point of multi-game events?
Despite being a sport-nut, I have often questioned what interest there is in sitting and watching three or four games back to back sat on a plastic seat.
Therefore, there’s got to be a clear purpose of holding these events.
One is to provide a platform for a broadcaster to show multiple games – clearly it’s more cost effective to show eight games from one venue, than it is to show multiple games across multiple venues.
However, at the weekend, the Championship’s broadcast partners Viaplay only showed two of the seven games (the eighth was a Women’s Super League game) live.
Although the other games were streamed live via Our League, they were behind a paywall. It’s a far cry from when Sky Sports used to show every game live.
A second purpose would be to attract new fans. Holding the Summer Bash in York, where Championship games are already held regularly, doesn’t really tick that box. Judging by the attendance, it didn’t attract existing fans for a weekend away either.
The argument for Blackpool is that fans are more likely to make a weekend of it.
Though either way, games always look disappointing on TV with empty seats everywhere, which is a consequence of holding multi-game events.
Thirdly, it would be to make money. It would be a surprise if the clubs found the Summer Bash a worthwhile exercise in terms of finances.
Disappointing attendance in 2023
The four games on Saturday, culminating in two televised clashes including one featuring unbeaten league leaders Featherstone and hosts York, attracted a crowd of 3,793.
The Sunday attracted just 2,948.
In comparison, the lowest single day attendance in Blackpool was 3,928 (2018) – and the lowest overall attendance was 11,805 (also 2018).
2023 (York) – 6,741
2022 (Leeds) – 10,763
2019 (Blackpool) – 15,070
2018 (Blackpool) – 11,805
2017 (Blackpool) – 16,444
2016 (Blackpool) – 15,912
2015 (Blackpool) – 15,671
Will there be a Summer Bash in 2024?
With the future of Magic Weekend uncertain – IMG have called for its removal from the calendar but clubs are believed to have leaned back against it – the future looks even worse for Summer Bash.
The figures at Blackpool, while far superior to at York, are still relatively underwhelming and the odd game adds an imbalance to the fixture list. It may be a case of Blackpool or bust.
It wouldn’t feel like a significant loss if Summer Bash was scrapped – certainly not in comparison to when the Northern Rail Cup was banished without a trace following the 2013 season.
Uncertainty over central funding and the TV deal will no doubt be higher on the agenda than sorting out another Summer Bash event.
The RFL have bigger fish to try than organising this mid-season Championship event, which doesn’t add a great deal to the calendar.
Clubs would be better served focusing on growing their own home attendances, and the RFL better served in focusing their attention on their all round media and marketing strategy, rather than carrying the burden of promoting and running this event.