Page XIII editorial, first published 1st June 2012 in Rugby League World, Issue 375 (July 2012)
Another year, another Magic Weekend, but the chorus of grumbles that usually follow in its wake are much quieter. The major weakness is still there: too many fans turn up to watch their own club rather than stick around for the whole day, thus leaving a stadium that never feels as full as it ought to considering the numbers of tickets sold. I doubt there is anyway round that. You can’t chain people to their seats. The RFL have issued their usual self-congratulatory press release, hailing a ‘record’ attendance, but that record is only a few hundred more than the previous one set far away in Cardiff so let’s not pop too many corks. However, despite those reservations – and the danger of assuming it will happen at the same place and time again next year, when that in itself would be something of a novelty – those who regularly attend seem to love it with a zeal that verges on the religious.
So, as long as it makes a profit, and as long as the clubs and the players want to take part in it, it seems pointless to criticise and be labelled negative or a doomsayer. It sees Rugby League dominate the TV schedules on Sky for a whole weekend and the smaller capacity Etihad Stadium improved the look and feel of it. Has the Magic Weekend found its proper home at last? It may lack a grand purpose, but if it is profitable and it is fun, perhaps it doesn’t need any more than that to justify its continuation.
I DO LIKE MONDAYS
Never afraid to try something new, Rugby League is now appearing on TV screens on Monday night, taking advantage of the gap in Sky TV’s schedules created by football’s off-season. It will be interesting to see how the viewing figures compare with the more familiar Friday and Saturday night games. From this viewer’s perspective, I much preferred the Monday night experience to Saturday teatime, though it won’t make traversing the motorways in the rush hour any easier for travelling fans. Sky made a big effort to promote the new slot in newspaper and billboard adverts and also tweaked their presentation to take into account the potential new audience that might be tuning in. I hope those that do will be converted and won’t give up the habit when football returns to shove Rugby League back into the sidelines.
Shadow Cabinet member Andy Burnham MP has added political weight to the argument in favour of a return to automatic promotion and relegation to replace the current licensing system in Super League. Burnham’s frustrations are widely shared, particularly at a time of the year when we can see football revelling in its end of season drama. The way we do things in Rugby League is antiseptic in comparison. Burnham argues that licensing is not ‘the British way’; that may resonate emotionally with the audience he is playing to, but it offers no viable alternative. It boils down to money, and the fact that Rugby League does not generate enough of it, or share what it does have particularly effectively.
The argument in favour of promotion and relegation will only be won when its advocates can demonstrate how a semi-professional business can transform its operation into a full time business in a matter of weeks, and vice versa, without going bust in the process.
Answers on a postcard to RFL HQ.
Now that the Magic Weekend has been dumped as a vehicle for expanding the game’s horizons, we must look to the changes coming next season to Championship One to fulfil Rugby League’s ongoing need to bring in new audiences. Northampton Rebels and Hemel Stags will now be joined by University of Gloucester All Golds, plus one more new entrant still to be announced. Many in the game still doubt the wisdom of expanding at all, and others are fearful at the speed with which this latest experiment is being carried out. Given the string of past failures, it’s hard not to feel some trepidation. It is to be hoped that all the new clubs, and those they will join in the competition next season, are given all the support they will need by the RFL to make this bold experiment a success.
John Drake, Editor