This week, announcements were made about this years magic weekend and more specifically about its opening fixture. Various fans had opinions on the Championship fixture between Toronto Wolfpack and Toulouse Olympique but is the concept of the magic weekend altogether becoming more and more obsolete?
The commercial aspect of the magic cannot be questioned, it attracts the highest number of fans in one stadium and through TV, in world rugby over the course of the two days. But there is an argument that attendances and national/international TV figures don’t necessarily equate to long term success in terms of the game.
You could argue the fact that the inclusion of a championship fixture is a step in the wrong direction as viewing figures will now depend on showings in the US, Canada and France, and not on the quality of rugby on display from Super League itself. But that is an argument for an article specific to that fixture not to the concept of the magic.
Taking away opinion on the Championship fixture and monetary gains, there is an argument as to whether the weekend itself hinders the integrity of the sport and the outlook of the season overall. If you were to talk to a football fan and speak of a dedicated extra fixture, they would laugh in your face. Imagine a world where Manchester United finished a point behind Manchester City not because they were better over the course of home and away fixtures, but because they had a dedicated ‘magic’ equivalent where City beat newly promoted Huddersfield and United failed to beat Chelsea.
It is hard to balance an entertaining programme with a fair fixture list and over the course of the last decade the sway in fixtures has started to annoy fans, including myself.
Rewind to 2007 and there was need of an event that raised the bar and created a buzz about rugby league and especially Super League, the idea was almost revolutionary to us fans who live and breath the sport. It included some of the most exciting games of the season in the space of two days. The Wigan/Saints derby, the Hull City derby, even the old Yorkshire derby between Leeds and Bradford. It was a mouthwatering prospect and one, you have to agree, was well planned and became the centre-piece for great advertisement of the game.
Now look to the planned 2018 weekend. Comparing the fixtures; In terms of relegation and promotion, Bradford and London made way for Widnes and Castleford, meaning Castleford can take the place of Bradford and create an all Yorkshire affair. Widnes returning to the top flight means the return of the Cheshire derby. Except, the fixtures have separated the two Cheshire sides, Warrington and Widnes.
Not only has the Cheshire derby been split, to create revenue Warrington have been pitted against Wigan meaning the loss of another derby. In fact, with Hull KR’s recent promotion back after a season out, the Hull City derby and the all Yorkshire tie between Huddersfield and Wakefield are the only fixtures left standing from 2007. It doesn’t take a lot to admit the fixture list is just not as appealing as it once was, leaving the aspect of attraction to the games themselves void.
Both the arguments raised, about league position finish and fixture arrangements, could be fixed, at least in the opinion of a handful of fans. Talk to any Wigan fan and they will tell you that beating St. Helens is more important than two league points. The same can be said of Widnes and Hull FC about their counterparts. But even then, the thought of having to travel the length of the country to see a game so close to home, is ludicrous. The argument being, that those journey’s are reserved for big occasions such as finals.
Viewing figures for Super League in the UK are at a high and with the outlining of an impressive looking international calendar in motion, and Super League becoming more and more popular each season, I would only predict that number to increase, so is the magic needed? Possibly not.
This opinion might be slightly ahead of its time however, as the revenue and commercial aspects are still vital as growth continues but there surely will come a time where these monetary based aspects take a back seat and rugby league is the most important thing, meaning that a re-think has to take place as to how the magic affects the season and the image of the game. Realistic outcomes would be the possibility of the original derby structure, to advertise the game not the weekend, or the axing of the concept altogether.