SUPER League’s Magic Weekend in Newcastle is guaranteed to be a box-office hit, according to general manager Blake Solly.
The ninth running of the Magic Weekend, where a full programme of top-flight matches is played on the same pitch over two days, will be held for the first time this weekend at St James’ Park after previously being taken to the Millennium Stadium, Murrayfield and Manchester’s Etihad Stadium.
It’s a credit to the league and the clubs for patiently building this event into something that breaks records. We are guaranteed a record attendance, the biggest-ever viewing audience and the biggest economic impactBlake Solly
Organisers are confident of drawing a 40,000 crowd for the opening day on Saturday and say they are on course to break the aggregate record of 64,553 set last year with the aid of a healthy local ticket sales.
“We’re over 60,000 sales already and we’re expecting to have around 40,000 in the stadium on Saturday,” Solly said at the event’s launch at St James’ Park.
“It’s a credit to the league and the clubs for patiently building this event into something that breaks records. We are guaranteed a record attendance, the biggest-ever viewing audience and the biggest economic impact.
“Over 20 per cent of the sales are from the north-east region. We always felt this was a region that loves its sport but it’s been a real pleasant surprise to see the amount of sales that has come from this region.”
The event was moved to the north-east because of re-building work at the Etihad Stadium but Solly says it could stay in Newcastle for 2016 if this weekend proves as successful as they expect.
“It’s still open for next year,” he added. “We know that the Etihad and Manchester want to have us back and hopefully we do enough to make Newcastle want to have us back as well next year.
“The whole point of the event is to build something that towns and cities want to host. I think we’re in that position now and it’s up to us to pick the venue and the city that works the best for Super League.”
Organisers have tapped into latent support for rugby league in the north-east, where the game has existed at amateur level for many years.
Former England international Chris Thorman, currently an assistant coach at Huddersfield, was a product of the Wallsend club and Super League was played in neighbouring Gateshead in 1999.
That club, which was re-launched in Gateshead following the merger with Hull, recently joined forces with local rugby union club Newcastle Falcons, changing its name to Newcastle Thunder, and they are hoping to cash in on the Magic Weekend by drawing a crowd of 2,000 for their League 1 game against York at Kingston Park on Friday night.
St Helens captain Jon Wilkin has backed Super League’s plan to strengthen the game in its northern heartlands and suggests Liverpool could be the next stop for the Magic Weekend.
“We live in a bubble in terms of giving the wider public access to our sport - whether that’s to watch it or read about it or play it - so I think coming to a new area - or re-invigorating an area that’s had a bit of history with the game - is a smart thing to do,” Wilkin said.
“Everyone was sceptical at the start. I think we overcame a lot of political challenges within the game but last year I was really proud of the way the game, having stuck by something for a period of years, presented the Magic Weekend.
“It looked the real deal and a lot of other sports looked on enviously at that. The challenge is to keep pushing it forward and improving it.
“Newcastle is a really vibrant city. It reminds me of Liverpool which has a really strong regional identity and the people are strong, passionate characters who love their sport.
“I think Liverpool and Newcastle are two clear sources of development for the game, as well as the continued development of Cumbria, to enhance our hold in the north of the country. These areas are crucial for us before we even think about making teams like London a real sustainable success.
“I think connecting with the north is quite an important strategic step.”