16th May 2019, 15:47 | rfl
A brief examination of the origins of the Seaside Summer Bash will go a long way to explaining the success story.
In 2014-15, Blackpool Football Club was in turmoil as fans determined to boycott matches and stay away until a detested ownership regime changed. Crowds plummeted, managers unable to arrest the decline came and went and a spiral of relegations was inevitable.
With the club haemorrhaging thousands of pounds by the week, they were forced to consider other income streams. As astute approach from the RFL was not initially widely welcomed – but needs must, and an agreement was forged.
Long-time groundsman Stan Raby wasn’t a fan of that arrangement it’s fair to say, effectively reducing his time to prepare his beloved surface for the following season. But pop concerts on the pitch featuring AHA and UB40 gave him more to worry about than a weekend’s Rugby League.
The rest, as they say, is history with The Championship showpiece returning year upon year.
So the RFL have the perfect venue to showcase Championship Rugby League.
Many from the game’s heartland will have holidayed in the resort, probably on several occasions. It’s true that workers from the Yorkshire woollen mill towns sometimes favoured Morecambe, but traditionally, Lancashire’s premier tourist town was the big attracting. And you don’t have to look far to see why.
Anyone who has travelled to a Wembley Challenge Cup Final by bus or train will tell you that the conversation returning North often has little to do with the quality of the match. Much more popular topics are genuine disbelief at the cost of a pint, a meal and a bed to snatch a few hours sleep.
Blackpool hits the right notes at the other end of the scale with beer promotions, fast food aplenty and a wide-ranging choice of accommodation to suit any budget. Research has shown that when The Football League release the fixtures for the following season every June, fans of Pool’s opponents book early as their number one away trip.
With the Summer Bash being staged at the back on the Fylde again, hotel and bed and breakfast proprietors are establishing similar – and profitable – patterns. There’s a wealth of higher end opportunities as well. Leafy Lytham and sedate St Anne’s On The Sea are minutes away and easily accessible for those who may want a quieter few days.
If the logistics off the field are a definite attraction, then it’s time to focus on what the real rugby league fan wants to see – their team putting on a show on the field. Our game prides itself on being the sport of the people and providing a bond between players and supporters. You can’t get much more up and close and personal than at Bloomfield Road.
The stadium’s design and layout is perfect for creating an electric atmosphere. Single tier seated accommodation on all four sides with the narrowest of pitch surrounds mean that fans on the front rows are almost within touching distance of the players.
OK, The Magic Weekend carries the kudos of being staged in fantastic stadia like St James Park Anfield – but with that comes a distance and a separation. Not so here where, over the course of the weekend, players waiting to strut their stuff or coming down after doing their thing, will be seen sitting amongst the fans. Heroes or villains for 80 minutes, but proper people enjoying the occasion for the rest of the time.
The resort is easily accessible with the amenities concentrated around the famous Promenade. A boneshaking ride on a tram will get you virtually anywhere and the town’s residents will offer you a warm welcome, knowing that you spending your hard earned cash is crucial to their very existence.
It’s an experience in itself to see Blackpool be-decked in shirts and scarves across the spectrum of colours with smiles evidencing enjoyment for all.
Those three main stakeholders again…The RFL have an event that clearly works: The Football Club are looking forward positively for the first time in years and you, the supporters will turn up in your numbers to have a great time.
It ain’t broke, don’t fix it. A Seaside Summer Bash has been a real success story.
Long may it continue.
Ian Chisnall is a long-standing follower of Blackpool FC, and will be at Bloomfield Road on Sunday to commentate on the last fixture of the weekend between Leigh and Widnes for BBC Radio Merseyside. This piece appears in the official Betfred Championship Summer Bash programme, available for £5 at the ground.