Magic is on the move, but where should it go?

After a successful few years in Newcastle, it looks like the RFL are keen to move on. Andrew Riley looks at a couple of the places mentioned.

A lot of fans will tell you that Newcastle has been a roaring success as a venue for Magic Weekend, and, as someone who covered two seasons up there, I’d agree. As venues go, its a corker!

Easy access to the bars and restaurants of Newcastle, a fan zone that has developed into a great place to meet up and chat with fellow fans from other clubs, and of course Rugby AM.

Given that the event was derided by some at its inception, the RFL have worked wonders to turn it into one of the biggest events on the sports calendar.

For me its up there with the Grand final and the Challenge Cup final as an event in its own right.

Back in 2007 just over 59,000 watched 6 super league matches over two days in Cardiff, and hardly anyone outside of the sport thought it was going to be viable to carry on, but the following season, again, in the capital of the principality, over 63,000 hardy souls made the trip.

After two years, it was decided that a move North was needed & the event landed in Edinburgh for two seasons.

In 2011 however, it returned to Cardiff, but this time it was as the opening round of the season, and after criticism of the “seeding” of games, it was decided that local derbies would form the weekend.

The attendance was however down on the previous years, with just 60,214 heading to Wales in February.

Next up was Manchester, and the Etihad stadium, home of Manchester City, and the matches reverted to a mid season set of derbies, rather than a season opener, over the bank holiday weekend.

This, and the fantastic weather, saw the largest ever crowd of 63,716 attend.

The event was to stay in Manchester for the following two years, growing in stature and attendance each time, 64,552 was the highest ever for a Magic Weekend, while the Saturday attendance of 36,339 was the highest ever single-day figure until both records were surpassed the consequent year in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Looking forward though, after four very successful years in Newcastle, the RFL are looking to move the event again, with Manchester being a front runner, and rumoured to be part of the deal which will see the RFL installed as tenants at the nearby “Sports City”.

From a purely personal point of view, I’d happily see it return to Manchester, as its a simple tram ride there and back, but many would see it as a backwards step, and are keen on taking it abroad, with Toronto, Dublin and even New York being mentioned.

I’m all for expanding the game, but are we at risk of doing damage to the sport by rushing to outposts (after all, we still don’t have a South Wales super league team, nor a Scottish team) that don’t really “get” the sport as yet.

I’ll admit, the Canadians have taken to the sport, and the possibility of a team in the Big Apple (not Bramley, the other one!) is a mouthwatering prospect, but if we’re going abroad, then for me, Florida has to be the option.

Fans can combine their holiday with a bit of rugby league, get a decent tan and maybe even take in a baseball game.

The universities there have stadia that put some of our grounds to shame, so finding a venue to suit everyone shouldn’t be a problem.

There is already a league structure in Florida, so the appetite is certainly growing for the sport there, and a fair old ex-pat community as well.

For me though, the weekend SHOULD stay in Newcastle. Its just feels right.

Thunder playing on the Friday followed by a complete round of games. Rather than derbies though, I’d make the build up to the weekend all that much better by drawing the games out of a hat a couple of weeks before, and turning the draw into the sort of media event that the Challenge Cup has become.

 

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Back over the pond

Come March, I’ll be taking a well earned break back in Fort Lauderdale.

While there, I’m hoping to try to catch a couple of Spring training games from my favourite American pastime, Baseball.

I’ve written in other posts of my following of the Tampa Bay Rays, but I’ll be spreading my wings this time, and going to see other clubs as they prepare for the 2018 season.

Ideally, I’d like to try and take in a couple of rugby league games as well, but as I will have Mrs R with me, a certain amount of touristy things will have to take precedent!

So dear reader, what spring training game in Florida should I go to? Personally, I’m thinking of a cross state drive to Fort Myers and the Twins and Red Sox.

It looks like a beautiful place to visit, not too touristy, but with plenty for a couple on their  holidays to do and see.

Schedules for the grapefruit league should be out soon, but Fort Myers is my first choice.

The rugby league World cup final takes place on the 2nd December, and its the hosts Australia who will take on England, who survived a scare in their semi final, narrowly beating Tonga, 18-20, earlier today.

Can England upset the bookies, and claim their fourth title?

My heart would love to see the squad fly back with the trophy, but my head says that Australia, under the leadership of one of the greatest players ever to grace the game, Mal Meninga, will once again emerge triumphant in Brisbane.

I’d like to wish all my colleagues who have made the trip to cover the tournament a safe and happy trip to the final and a safe journey home, especially to Gary Carter, who just two years ago was lying in a hospital bed fighting for his life after an unprovoked attack in London.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-42109316

I’m certain I’ll see you all back at Salford, Leigh, Warrington and every other stadium once the new season starts.

Until the final…

Have a great week, whaterver and wherever you happen to be in the world.

Take me out to the ball game…

 

Tropicana Field

It’s no secret that I love baseball.

A game that first attracted my attention when I owned a pub, and Channel 5 ran live games two or three nights a week, the perfect antidote after standing and serving people all night when there was very little live sport on.

I took my family to St Pete beach in 2006, and went to watch a couple of Tampa Bay Ray (or Devil Rays as they were then) during our holiday.

I’m off to Miami in June, and will be heading to watch the Marlins, and depending on the date, might even get to see them play the Rays!

Sport is something our American cousins do well…

When we went last time, the first 12,000 kids under 14 were given a free baseball mitt. Having been in touch with the organisation before we went, we were met by one of their PR staff, who promptly gave our youngest a couple of sets of Rays shades and a tee shirt!

Add in the fact that you dont need to leave your seat to purchase food and beverages, and the whole fan experience is second to non.

We’ve made great strides in fan engagement in the last few years, but it could still be better.

Why dont we see clubs (in any sport) offering more for kids? Face painting? Pah! Parents dont want their £40 replica shirts stained.

If smaller sports want to see more younger fans through the turnstiles, offer them something meaningful.

Give primary schools free passes for each kid, just once a season, and charge parents £10. Give them a free mini ball, or signed squad photo as they come in, nothing expensive, just something to engage them and get them wanting more.

no need to give every school tickets for the same game, spread it out over the season. That way you’re not overwhelmed if everybody arrives at once.

This is how you organically grow your fan base, especially in a city where you are competing with other sports.

Sale Sharks already offer fans a food & drink to your seat app, so why not the Devils? It would certainly be a USP in Super League.