Dave Craven: Another Magic weekend heading for City’s Etihad Stadium

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First Manchester City win the Premier League title and now they have the coveted Magic Weekend.

The good times have certainly hit the blue side of town and I am not, in any way, being sarcastic.

For all many in rugby league – fans, players, club chief executives – would simply take or leave its contrived formula, the seven-game bonanza does tend to enjoy some obvious benefits for whichever city stages it.

The thousands of supporters who descend on Manchester over the next two days will clearly bolster revenues for bars, pubs, restaurants and the like, although the hotel industry will not get its usual boon.

While in Cardiff and Edinburgh inflated room rates had to be bared, the proximity of Manchester to most rugby league supporters, and the obvious effects of the recession, now means many can and will just venture out for the day this weekend.

That is not such a bad thing, though, for the Super League clubs at least.

Speaking to a few recently, they are reporting increased ticket sales on previous years; cash-strapped faithful can regard the much-maligned concept as just another away day at Salford.

They will get in, watch the rugby, have a beer/Bovril and a Wagon Wheel, and get out again, with the majority back along the M62 and home in plenty of time for last orders if desired.

It may reduce the vibrant colour, bonhomie and atmosphere which was so evidently seen around the streets of Cardiff and Edinburgh in each of the last five years.

But if it means getting more people in the stadium for the actual games it can only be a good thing; rarely have I been more disheartened for the sport than when seeing so many thousands of empty seats at Murrayfield during the opening game between Salford City Reds and Harlequins three years ago.

Equally, that could read Catalan v Harlequins in Cardiff in 2007 or the same 12 months later.

The problem with both the Millennium Stadium and Murrayfield has always been trying to generate any sort of atmosphere with, at best, only 30,000 fans in at any one time.

Given their respective capacities are 74,000 and 67,000, the sparsely populated grounds feel as flat as Manchester United supporters have been ever since those miraculous events almost a fortnight ago.

Manchester City’s stadium, however, holds just 48,000 so, with more crowds than ever expected, there is a real chance Magic Weekend could for the first time create an ambience worthy of its title. All of this detracts slightly from the fact the Rugby Football League has veered away from its original reasoning for the Magic Weekend – to showcase the sport on the road away from its traditional heartlands in an attempt to attract new audiences.

Manchester, for all it seemingly being the epicentre of all things football, isn’t alien to rugby league and certainly does not sit in the expansion bracket.

Indeed, Manchester City’s previous home of Maine Road almost continuously hosted the Championship final between 1946 and 1956 with Wigan, Warrington, Bradford Northern, Workington Town, Halifax, Oldham and Hull all featuring there. However, in theory, the governing body should be praised for this switch.

Maybe they realised it has no future ‘on the road’ and the embarrassment had gone on too long.

In reality, though, Magic Weekend is here to stay regardless of its venue.

That is principally because of Sky Sports; seven live fixtures broadcast from one stadium over two days is manna from heaven for them as it cuts costs hugely, is better logistically and offers them a marvellous marketing tool.

They are avid fans of the concept and – with this being the first 12 months of a five-year deal – the game cannot afford to fall foul of them so expect the ‘Magic’ to remain a fixture, somewhere, until 2016 at least.

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