22nd May 2018, 17:50 | steve_mascord

WE GOT ISSUES: The Future Of Magic Weekend

WE GOT ISSUES: The Future Of Magic Weekend

By Steve Mascord

IN Rugby League, we’re great at turning a positive into - if not a negative, then at least a controversy,

By almost any measure, Magic Weekend at St James’ Park was a success: an aggregate crowd of 65,407, lots of spectacular Rugby League and rampant bonhomie.

But no sooner had the Hull Derby finished on Sunday night that we were debating where it should be held next year. I’d like to be a little less predictable than that: I’d like to discuss how we might sprinkle a bit of magic dust on other events before discussing other venues.

Replicating last weekend’s magic is tricky because people don’t have a bottomless pit of money. We expect the hardest core rugby league fans to go this event, Wembley, the Super League Grand Final and three domestic Tests a year.

That’s squeezing most financial oranges completely dry.

The things we’d love to 3D print are the sense of community, the economic power of supporters of more than two clubs visiting a city and a spectacle unique to our sport that’s as impressive on TV as it is live.

Not an easy assignment without sucking some of the life out of the original concept.

A pre-season Nines involving NRL teams and perhaps some second-tier national sides, in the vein of the much-missed World Sevens in Sydney (held once in Brisbane, too), would be perhaps be possible - if the weather wasn’t so darn cold. Perhaps in-doors in Cardiff … would you support that? Would you invest in a trip away for it in January?

Another idea I heard floating around in Tyneside was to alternate between Wembley and Old Trafford for the Grand Final and Challenge Cup final. In other words, one year the Grand Final would be in London, the next in Manchester. Mix it up to make it more like Magic.

I am guessing ground usage would be an issue here.

The secret is to come up with something so different that it would not be an “either-or” choice for supporters. Instead of a Magic Weekend New York or Dublin, what about a World Club Series? 

Toronto v Toulouse has broken down the barrier for inviting teams based purely on the regions they represent. It should be easier, then, to guarantee Toronto, Catalans, PNG Hunters and New Zealand Warriors spots in future WCS events regardless of where they finish the previous year.

What about top three in Super League and top three in the NRL plus those four teams as representatives of their respective countries playing in Dubai or Hong Kong or a Florida venue at the end of January? Pool games one day, final and plate final on the Sunday.

We’re talking about attracting fans from six countries - including those who live locally in the neutral city - and TV and media from each territory. If your team was in it, would you go?

Which brings us to next point: where should Magic Weekend go next year?

As much as I am an expansionist, I struggle to see New York working. The cost of sending 12 teams there would be enormous, the broadcasters would likely baulk, and travel would rule many people out. And if I'm new to a sport, I don't want to watch six bloody games of it first up! Perhaps Toronto would be the only place in North America it would be worth a try, given they have skin in the game.

I know some club officials don’t even think Super League fans would travel to Dublin. I think they would. I have a friend who lives at Balls Bridge near the Aviva Stadium and at a pinch she can walk home from the city.

It’s a wonderful place, is less than an hour away from many northern airports - but as far as I know there is no bid.

Coventry or Manchester are the street corner tips. Coventry’s stadium is a long way from town but there’s the possibility of an indoor fan village that can hold 10,000 people being utilised adjacent to the Ricoh Arena. That sounds attractive.

Manchester for me lacks the adventure of a weekend away. Most fans sleep in their own beds after their team plays, making it less attractive to the city.  It’s more illusion than magic but that’s just my opinion.

Either way, it’s something to get excited about - not to argue about.

The possibilities are tantalising, not scary. We need as many of these things as we can get.