2017 saw record attendances for a Super League Magic Weekend as Newcastle’s St James Park saw over 65,000 people head to Tyneside for the annual festival of rugby league which sees every team from the top flight play a match in the same stadium over the course of two days. Newcastle tourism bosses say that the event generates over £4 million for the local economy yet the Rugby Football League (RFL) are toying with the idea of moving one of the game’s main events away from a venue favoured by fans aplenty. But where, after the success of the weekend’s three year stretch in Newcastle, might they move the event to?
One of the buzzwords at RFL HQ is ‘expansion’ and that ideology has seen such venues as Coventry’s Ricoh Arena and London’s Olympic Stadium being mooted. Now, for starters, the Ricoh has a capacity of just over 32,000 so would be able to cater for almost all of the fans who flocked to Newcastle this year but no more – is there logic in that? Furthermore, the location of St James’ Park in pretty much the city centre is hugely important to the event – there are restaurants and drinking establishments aplenty in walking distance as well as the train station within a fifteen minute walk, even for those who have over indulged in alcoholic beverages. Coventry’s stadium, however, has nothing nearby apart from a generic shopping centre. If fan experience is important to the RFL, the Ricoh simply isn’t a sustainable proposition with it being in a very undeveloped site five miles away for the city centre. The Olympic Stadium, while also being classed as in an expansion city as the RFL continue to attempt developments in the game in the capital, is a more viable option. Located right next to the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, there are a few more options for refreshments and the transport links are definitely there. From the nearest underground line, Central London and all of it’s attractions are less than twenty minutes away. However, there probably isn’t enough space in the aforementioned venues to cater for all of the rugby league fans who may congregate at the event and can you really see northerners heading down for an expensive weekend in London coupled with the much maligned food and drink prices down there? Nope, me neither. If the Challenge Cup final struggles to sell out at Wembley, with it’s pedigree and standing in professional sport, I’m not sure the Magic Weekend will be a huge draw were it so far from the rugby league heartlands.
Better options being bandied around are Anfield and Elland Road simply because of their geographical location in relation to the majority of Super League clubs, Liverpool and Leeds respectively. Both stadiums have the space to build slightly on the attendances of 2017 and would be draws for fans who will be aware of the offerings in the city centres of both cities – pubs, restaurants and clubs throughout both with vibrant night life which would definitely add to the fan experience. Anfield is two miles outside of Liverpool city centre which is probably doable if you had to walk it, while not being as ideal as St James’ Park’s location but it seems like a viable option. Indeed, it’s proximity to clubs such as Wigan, St Helens and Warrington would see fans aplenty from west of the pennines flock to Liverpool, as would fans from the east were Elland Road to be the chosen venue. Like Anfield, Leeds United’s ground has hosted it’s fair share of rugby league matches in the past with Four Nations, World Cup and World Club Challenges held there in the past. Slightly further from it’s city centre compared to Anfield and Liverpool, it is still a reasonable option for the weekend.
However, like the event’s inaugural venue – the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff – St James’ Park is in the heart of the city which makes an enjoyable day or weekend out a guarantee for all and I for one hope that the Magic Weekend stays on Tyneside for the next few years.