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Calls to stage Magic Weekend in Perpignan gain momentum

Catalonia flags and Catalans Dragons flags, and lots of fans and ticker tape at Stade Gilbert Britus for a Super League match.

Suggestions that Magic Weekend should be staged in Perpignan, home of Catalans Dragons, are gaining momentum.

This year, Magic Weekend will be staged at Elland Road in Leeds, meaning the day attendance will be capped at the stadium’s capacity of 37,792.

The highest single-day attendance to date was 40,871 at Newcastle’s St James’ Park in 2015, and it has been between 35 and 40,000 ever since, apart from a year at Anfield in 2019.

Therefore, Elland Road seems to be around the right size to hold the event, although it could slightly restrict attendance.

Being moved to August this year, it seems that the sport is trying new ways of improving the numbers, while Elland Road, being in the heartlands of rugby league already, is a move away from the traditional ‘day out’ feel of heading to Newcastle or even Edinburgh or Cardiff.

No stadium in the current league structure would represent a day out more than Stade Gilbert Brutus, home to Catalans dragons in the south of France.

Are British clubs ‘angry’ about Catalans Dragons?

Martyn Sadler of the League Express has suggested that the British clubs are getting frustrated with Les Dracs‘ involvement in Super League – and how that works out financially.

He said: “Apparently the British clubs are growing angry at the way in which the money from Super League all seems to flow one way as far as French clubs are concerned.

“Not only do the Dragons get a share of the broadcasting income, but they also get the financial benefit of being a popular destination, while very few French supporters make the journey to England for league games.”

There have been reports that Catalans may be made to pay for clubs’ travel to Perpignan for away games next season – so the idea that clubs are growing weary of the current structure may well be true.

Sadler continued: “Because English fans dig deep into their pockets to go to Perpignan, the theory is that they don’t dig deep to attend Magic Weekend or the Challenge Cup Final.”

The Challenge Cup final has indeed suffered attendance-wise – it lingered between around 75 and 80,000 until 2017, when under 70,000 attended, and then plummeted the next year to 50,000 when Catalans played Warrington.

Former Super League referee Ashley Klein refereeing the 2007 Challenge Cup final between St Helens and Catalans Dragons

Credit: Imago Images

It has since failed to get above 65,000.

Suggestions that this is due to Catalans’ involvement seem unfounded, however – on its return to Wembley a year after Catalans joined Super League, St Helens played Catalans in front of 84,241, with similar attendances remaining for a decade.

A Catalans fan, ‘Catalan Media’ on Twitter, suggested a way to change Magic Weekend: “It’s the suggestion that fans going to France are why Magic Weekend and Challenge Cup Finals are making financial losses that really boils my bladder.

“Hold Magique in Perpignan next summer and I personally guarantee that the game will make that rarest of things: A profit.”

The Stade Gilbert Brutus holds around 13,000, and although temporary stands are sometimes erected to increase this, it seems unlikely that the event would move there, as the capacity is so much smaller than what the attendance tends to be.

Castleford Tigers Charbel Tasipale attempts to stop Catalans Dragons winger Tom Johnstone from scoring a try at Stade Gilbert Brutus

Credit: Imago Images

Nearby Stade Aimé Giral, home of union side USAP, also holds below 15,000.

The move would also be doubling the number of travels British clubs would make to French Catalonia.

Another proposal from a fan suggests holding the first day in Toulouse before moving the second day to Barcelona, hosting the game at the Stage Front Stadium, which is home to Espanyol football team. The Stage Front accomodates around 40,000 fans.

However, it would like make the event more attractive to fans purely for the excitement of a trip abroad, and if held while the weather is good, it could make many new fans want to attend.

Barcelona’s Camp Nou hosted a Catalans Dragons game vs Wigan Warriors in 2019 which attracted over 30,000 fans – a record for a regular season clash – and could be another option to host when it’s back open.

If the football club isn’t willing to give the pitch up for six games, perhaps the Estadi Olimpíc Lluís Companys, home of FC Barcelona while Camp Nou is renovated, could be an option as well.

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