Magic Weekend future close to being resolved as broadcasting negotiations near conclusion
It had been feared that this year’s six-game, two-day event – which concluded on Sunday in Newcastle – could be its last as part of changes instigated by the sport’s new strategic partners, IMG.
But clubs and prospective broadcasters, including existing rights holders Sky, are understood to be staunchly in favour of retaining the format, and its place on the 2024 calendar forms a crucial part of the ongoing talks.
A total of 63,269 fans flocked to the event across the two days, an increase of just over one thousand on last year’s cumulative attendance.
The date and venue of potential future editions remain unclear but Rhodri Jones, the managing director of RFL commercial, indicated that significant decisions are set to be made within the coming weeks.
“We are in discussions with multiple broadcasters at the moment and we expect that to conclude in the next two to three weeks, and I’d imagine the calendar will be within the next four to six weeks,” said Jones.
“Ideally we’d wrap it all up by the end of June to give clubs clarity on how the calendar looks next year. Certainly before the summer holiday period we’ll be ready to go and we’ll know what 2024 looks like.”
Given its groundswell of support since IMG’s initial recommendation that loop fixtures – of which Magic Weekend remains a part – be axed, focus has increasingly shifted towards how to preserve the format in a changing calendar.
The expecting shifting of the Challenge Cup final to earlier in the season poses one problem as any move for Magic could be complicated by the availability of suitable stadiums, in Newcastle or elsewhere.
“Probably the biggest challenge is availability of city and stadium,” conceded Jones.
“A stadium like (St James’s Park) in June or July doesn’t have a pitch, and in August they will be a Champions League club, so we’ve got some hurdles to overcome in general.
“I can’t give a definitive answer about the future of Magic, but it’s something we are definitely looking at for next year.”