SUPER LEAGUE chief executive Robert Elstone last night insisted he is “not losing any sleep” over reported poor ticket sales for Magic Weekend.
The event heads to Liverpool’s Anfield Stadium for the first time on Saturday following a successful four-year spell at Newcastle’s St James’ Park.
Early indications are that it could be the lowest attended Magic – where all dozen clubs play at one venue over 48 hours – in its 13-year history, but Elstone remains positive.
He has good reason to as well given he yesterday revealed the biggest commercial deal in Super League’s history by extending their partnership with Betfred for a further two seasons until the end of 2021.
Furthermore, on the back of breaking a record attendance for a Super League regular fixture – 31,555 people saw Catalans Dragons defeat Wigan Warriors in Saturday’s first rugby league game at the iconic Nou Camp in Barcelona – Elstone will head into the weekend in high spirits.
Asked if there is a figure Super League need to attain, Elstone, who took over last summer with a brief to freshen up the competition’s image, said: “There’s absolutely no way we’re looking at this saying ‘we must get above this line’ for it to be a success.
“That’s absolutely not the case. We’ve set a budget. That forms part of our financial reporting and we’re working really hard to get that.
“But it isn’t about that. As much as anything it’s about creating that sense of occasion, bringing the Super League family together and the best judge is watching fans leave Anfield hopefully with smiles on their faces saying what a great event it is.
“If we can deliver that then it comes back to what we’ve been talking about at Super League; this is a journey we’re going on and if we can deliver great rugby league, in a great city at a great venue then that’s the measure of success.”
Earlier this week an expected aggregate crowd of around 50,000 over the two days was mentioned with the previous low being 52,043 at Murrayfield in 2010 while more than 68,000 watched in Newcastle three years ago.
Of course clubs are doing their utmost to drive interest, too, and, when there were fears about the crowd figure when England played New Zealand at Anfield last autumn there was a rally from within the game to get fans attending.
In the end 26,234 saw that second Test while there was a crowd of 40,042 when Australia beat the Kiwis in the 2016 Four Nations final.
At a Magic press event at Super League headquarters in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, Elstone reitterated his “real confidence” that they had made the right choice to take the event to the famous football city.
“Just talking to people right now and listening to coaches and players, it’s on the tip of their tongue... Anfield, Anfield, Anfield,” said the 54-year-old, who was chief executive at Liverpool’s rivals Everton before returning to rugby league.
“There’s tremendous excitement about it and it is a brilliant venue. One of the challenges we’ve got, the city centre nature of Newcastle was really appealing.
“We haven’t got that, but we’re doing a lot of stuff around Anfield. I’m excited about Learning Disability Super League, which is going to be showcased and you can see that on Stanley Park.
“The city isn’t a million miles away, we’ve some really good fixtures and it’s great value for money so, if anyone’s not excited about going to Liverpool, playing at Anfield, seeing good games, meeting loads of other Super League fans and having a great time then, well, I think they should be…
“I’m absolutely not losing any sleep about Anfield. I’m just excited. A little bit like the morning of the Nou Camp game; I felt like a kid going to my first ever Cup final.
“I’m sure as I drive into Liverpool I’ll be feeling pretty similar about that. I hope all Super League fans do as it’s special; it’s something we should celebrate and embrace.”
Elstone has overseen a number of on-field changes to Super League this season in an attempt to make the game more exciting – Golden Point extra-time, shot clock, reduced interchanges – and he says Betfred have been pleased with the results.
The new multi-million pound deal with the bookmaker, owned by rugby league fan and Salfordian Fred Done, extends their three-year partnership.
“It is great news as, firstly, the value is a big deal,” said Elstone.
“We’re not reporting it, but it is a big, significant uplift,
“But the other thing is Betfred is a partner that always wants to hear new ideas, generates their own and then often puts their hands in their pocket and stumps up on that.
“Also the third thing is it’s a partner that has clearly bought into where we are trying to get to in terms of ‘New Beginnings’ and what we’re doing around the brand of Super League.
“It says to me they are liking what they are seeing, liking what they are hearing and, in that sense, that endorsement is always good.”
Hull FC are auctioning Jansin Turgut’s match-worn shirts to raise funds for their 23-year-old former player who is on life support and in intensive care after a fall from a three-storey car park in Ibiza.