Magic Weekend - In desperate need of an identity

Andrew McDonald

7/4/20232 min read

Magic Weekend is the Northern Hemisphere's big rugby league festival.

All 12 Super League teams playing in a single stadium across one weekend.

And it is indeed magic.

Fans of a dozen clubs sitting together watching their favourite side.

Urging them onto victory.

With not a hint of trouble.

Plenty of banter, though!

As I said, magic.

But there is a problem.

Attendances across the weekend are pretty solid. 63,269 fans turned up over the two days this year.

But you'd struggle to believe it. Because most of them arrive just before their team kicks off.

And leave immediately after their game ends.

Making the stadium feel somewhat empty for large parts of each day.

It doesn't look good on TV, either.

It's a brilliant concept but it proves a poor shop window for the game.

And that's caused by the event's lack of identity.

Or rather a reluctance to look at the bigger picture.

The original idea behind Magic Weekend was to bring rugby league to areas where the game wasn't popular.

To stimulate interest in the sport beyond its traditional heartlands.

An expansion project.

On that score, it has failed.

Initially, it was held in Cardiff. Before moving onto Edinburgh, back to Cardiff, then Manchester.

Since 2015, apart from one year in Liverpool, it has been hosted by Newcastle.

And Newcastle has proven a poor choice.

Rugby league authorities waffle on about how the fans love Newcastle.

Maybe they do. Newcastle is a party city. And the stadium is right on the edge of the city centre.

But that wasn't why they created the event.

It was to expand the game. Not to give the already diehard a day out.

And that project has failed in Newcastle.

If we go back eight years to the inaugural event in the city, Newcastle Thunder, the city's team, are a League 1 team.

League 1 is the third and final tier in national competition.

And they remain there in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019.

In 2020 the league is abandoned because of Covid.

Newcastle Thunder are promoted by default. Suits in a boardroom decide, for whatever reason, Newcastle is the team to go up.

Great opportunity for them. Now they'll be playing in the Championship, tier 2, against much bigger names.

Clubs like Bradford, Widnes, Sheffield Eagles, Featherstone.

Not Wigan, Saints, Leeds, but a significant step up.

And what happens?

They languish at the bottom of the table.

Their attendances go nowhere.

After the better part of a decade, you'd think rugby league authorities would've caught on.

Newcastle is not a rugby league city. Never will be. What's more, it has no interest in being one.

And to fill an event like Magic Weekend, you need local fans to attend.

The kind who'll be thrilled to see something they don't usually get opportunity to.

The twelve top sides playing each other in their city across two days.

Diehard fans who see their team play every week aren't the ones who'll keep a stadium full across six games.

People who don't usually get the chance are.

And in Newcastle they just don't exist.

It's time to move on from that city. To take the brave, rather than the lazy, option.

Test new waters. Find which cities actually do take to the event.

And build up a handful of them.


Familiarity breeds contempt.

If you host the event in the same city year on year, people lose interest.

Hold it in say five cities on a rotating basis. Giving people in those cities a once every half decade opportunity. Create rarity.

That's how you build an expansion project.

Not by sticking a pin in the map and being too idle to pull it out again.