The Super League Magic Weekend, despite its critics, enjoys its sixth year this season and there remains calls for a Championship equivalent.
The Championship struggles for exposure and has, in recent years, been scraping around for additional games to play. 10 team leagues mean just nine regular season home games, with two Northern Rail Cup group games added in. Is 11 home games a season enough to sustain a semi-professional club?
While a Magic Weekend wouldn’t solve that long standing problem, it would add another game to the calendar, and hopefully act as a money spinner for the leagues, both in terms of ticket sales and sponsorship.
Beyond that, creating a Championship specific event that relates to all the clubs – not just two per year, as with the Northern Rail Cup final – could help to give clubs experience in marketing and promoting an “event”, which they could then utilise to benefit them all year round.
One champion of the Magic Weekend idea spreading to the lower leagues is Rochdale Hornets coach, John Stankevitch.
The former St Helens and Widnes forward has the challenge, like so many other coaches at his level, of putting out a competitive side on a shoe-string budget, playing in front of crowds that sometimes barely touch 500.
He said: “In Super League, we are now accustomed to the Magic Weekend. It’s probably true to say that we still haven’t ‘hit the nail on the head’ with this project, but at least the concept shows some innovative thinking.
“Is it going to be the jobs of the CEO’s and Head Coaches of the Championship sides to get their heads together and organise a similar event, which will boost the profile of the Championship divisions. Is there a marketing budget available to put innovative ideas in motion?”
That point perhaps highlights a problem within the Championships. Who is responsible for its marketing and its growth? Everything higher up seems focused on Super League level. Maybe it is time for the club’s themselves to take on some responsibility, get together and lead a club-driven growth of the semi-professional game.
We’ve seen Premier Sports grab the attention with some innovative thinking within the Championship TV coverage, and it’s ideas like this which need to be initiated and pushed through by the stakeholders of the competition – the clubs.
Stankevitch goes on: “The Championship has alot going for it, and although the crowds at times can be frustratingly sparse, I strongly believe that there is a great game outside of Super League. I don’t however think that certain ‘parties’ value it at all, and hence we struggle to gain attractive sponsorship.
“Who is actually controlling the game in the lower divisions? There is plenty, that the likes of Featherstone, Halifax, Leigh, Hunslet, Oldham, Rochdale and Swinton to name a few, can offer this game in the UK, but it doesn’t seem like we are moving in the right direction as an organisation. In fact, I struggle to see us moving in any direction at all and if fact feel like the divsions have stagnated on the whole.”
Stankevitch’s idea would be to hold a Championship Magic Weekend at a venue such as Anfield, home of Liverpool Football Club. While his suggestion of the football club sponsoring the whole event was merely tongue-in-cheek, the overall suggestion does have some merits.
He said: “Hold it at Anfield for example and give free tickets away to every person living in the city! Get the RFL merchandising department to produce as much ‘Magic Memorabilia’ as possible and give it to each club to sell in and around the stadium. Pay back the costs of production to the RFL and give the profits made by each club, to the club!
“This way, the clubs aren’t out of pocket for the ‘gate’ receipts that they would have taken if they had played at home.”
Of course, his final point doesn’t really matter anyway, as the Championship Magic Weekend, if ever considered, would almost certainly be an additional game (or games) to the calendar.
While hoping to make a profit from an event where tickets are mainly given away for free is ambitious, the increased exposure the competition should get from the event may attract further sponsors for the competition and the clubs.
However, that ambitious suggestion may well point the Championship clubs in the right direction in other areas. Centralisation.
All clubs should get together and discuss shared ticketing platforms, shared merchandise deals and shared marketing ideas. Clubs don’t compete with each other for fans, and the Championship clubs have nothing to lose if they get their heads together and help each other grow.
Either way, someone needs to take responsibility for the Championships and help kick it forward. It remains a platform to Super League for some, but for most it is their long term rugby league home, and they must make the most of it.
You can read more of John’s thoughts on his blog at www.johnstankevitch.com