The Magic Weekend debate

The Magic Weekend at the Etihad Stadium had a fantastic atmosphere and broke the attendance record for the event, but, for me, the jury is still out.

Manchester City’s home ground proved to be an ideal location for the weekend, and the RFL could hardly have hoped for better weather, while all but perhaps two of the games provided great entertainment.

The attendance of 63,716 was marginally better than the previous record, set at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in 2008, but it is worth remembering that in 2008, there was one less game, and two less sets of fans to make up the total.

After six years, what has the Magic Weekend achieved for rugby league?

The Challenge Cup and Grand Final events already represent great examples of what rugby league is about, and the resources and attention given to the Magic Weekend by the powers that be, could surely be redirected in to other areas – for instance, improving regular league game and Challenge Cup attendances.

There were more people at an exhibition rugby union match at Twickenham between England and the Barbarians than turned up to watch four Super League matches on Sunday.

There is no more media coverage of the Magic Weekend than any other weekend, bar the fact that SKY televise all seven games, and it doesn’t seem to have attracted any more sponsors to the sport.

Speaking of sponsors, Stobart held their “Stobart Fest” right outside the ground, but to be quite honest it was a massive disappointment from a rugby league point of view.

Sure, the Super League branded trucks were there, but there was no other rugby league exposure to the thousands of people who were solely there for the Stobart Fest.

Forget your stereotypical truck spotter, these were predominantly families, and an ideal target audience for rugby league, but you could be forgiven for not even knowing there was a game on inside the stadium in the Stobart Fest area. Could Stobart not have shown the rugby league from inside the ground on the big screen, instead of repeats of their TV series, or even had some promo girls handing out Super League leaflets? Considering they’re sponsoring Super League for free, it was a poor show.

For the fans that did make it inside the stadium, there were some great moments, such as David Hodgson’s dramatic late winner for Hull KR against derby rivals Hull, and Wakefield’s win over Castleford.

But this extra game in the calendar just doesn’t sit with me. How can we have a competition where you play every team twice, but one team three times? While Warrington won at a canter against Widnes, two of their main rivals Wigan and St Helens had to play each other, although admittedly Wigan found it relatively easy in the end anyway. On the flip side, Widnes faced a daunting game against Warrington, while Wakefield and Castleford played each other in a game both would have seen as winnable.

It damages the integrity of the sport on the field – although, ultimately, maybe none more so than the fact that the final league placings matter little when it comes to crowning the champion or when teams are artificially placed in to the competition from below.

The people in attendance are perhaps the sort of people who would watch their team wherever it may be, and many will have watched little more than just their own team in action. It seems unlikely that many new fans will have been introduced to the sport, and as such, maybe it is time to focus the undoubted efforts that go in to the Magic Weekend, elsewhere.

One suggestion could be to hold an international magic weekend, combining perhaps an England v Exiles game with an international between Wales and France.

Judging by international crowds in recent years, it may be a struggle to fill any ground for that, but an alternative might be to involve the Challenge Cup.

Could the last 16 of the Challenge Cup be held at the same ground over two days? Or maybe the quarter-finals. An obvious suggestion is the semi-finals, although with only four teams involved, it may prove difficult to attract fans of “other” clubs to attend, particularly so close to the final.

It seems rugby league fans want some sort of event to attend earlier in the season, with both the Challenge Cup final and the Grand Final coming later in the year, and the Magic Weekend may continue to be that – but the overall benefits it is bringing to rugby league as a whole still seem unclear.

What did you make of the Magic Weekend? If you were in charge, what would you do? Leave your comments below.

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