Monday, 7 February 2011

Millennium Magic? More like Millennium Madness

Decision to start the season alongside the 6 Nations is symptomatic of the issues facing the game.

The curtain is raised on Super League XVI this weekend with all fourteen teams in action to kick off the sixteenth season of the top British rugby league competition – a welcome alternative to the launch of the previous two seasons which have both seen Leeds v Crusaders start the year.

If you were unaware of this fact, then you will have plenty of company for the event has been scarcely publicised and has drawn even less media attention. However, unlike other Super League seasons, the opening also has the disadvantage of being entirely localised in an area even smaller than the M62 corridor which the game is often parodied as belonging exclusively for all seven games are being held in Wales’ fantastic Millennium Stadium.

The concept of a Magic weekend was born in 2006, when the clubs elected to hold one weekend where they would all play in the same stadium from 2007 onwards. Initially scheduled for the May bank holiday, the clubs elected to hold it at the Millennium Stadium. Partly as an attempt to raise the profile of the game in Wales and partly to afford the possibility of a Challenge Cup style weekend away in the Spring at a venue which fans had taken to their hearts following the Challenge Cup being held there in

From 2009, the venue was switched to Scotland and Murrayfield stadium. However, the somewhat antiquated venue never proved to be popular amongst fans and with little local public interest alongside derby games being replaced with a seeded draw,
the event lost momentum and the 2010 spectacle ended with complaints from players and fans alike.

Back to the drawing board the RFL and Superleague went and the concept of kicking off the season at the Millenium Stadium was born.

A great idea in principle but it has one fatal flaw. For Wales’ national sport, Rugby Union, and their national team, are also playing on the same day, at the same time. And this is no ordinary fixture clash.

For this opening of the Super League season is in direct competition to the Six Nations. A competition which, helped by the BBC and the Southern leanings of the national press is publicised to the high heavens, all but taking over the sporting media. Let alone in Cardiff, where the entire city can seem to stop as one and tune into the game.

It need not have been like this. For the Six nations does offer respite and the next weekend would have been free. Not only that, but even the insatiable football Premiership takes a break that weekend, albeit for the FA Cup quarter finals but with a fairly limited sporting schedule that weekend, the RFL could have capitalised on a comparatively empty sporting press agenda and used this to effectively promote the Super League season and get the season off with the bang that it deserves.

And whilst it is undoubtedly true that the season schedule is packed more tightly than ever, surely the benefits that would be created by delaying the season by a mere seven days, could have lead to finding room for an extra week.

However, even if at the end of the day, Super League has missed an empty goal to promote itself, then at least this is what the fans were wanting and it is they who count.

If only it were that simple. In the middle of an inflationary recession, how many fans are able to afford the approximately £70 round trip. Even with ticket prices a reasonable £35 for the weekend, given the cost of accommodation and general living costs for the weekends, this is one weekend get away that most families could like to do without. After all, even with the roof closed for the matches, the Welsh weather is unlikely to be hospitable and provide a welcoming weekend to its guests.

Indeed, given all this, it is no surprise that at least one English based club has reportedly sold less than 100 tickets and that, in all likelihood, less than 33% of the teams will make up more than 66% of the total attendance.

In my opinion, the best bet would have been to attempt to launch Super League XVI with a Magic weekend, but in the North of England. Whilst such an event does not provide fans with a weekend get away, the present recession should not be underestimated and fans that do want to get away will still have the prospect of weekends in London and France to look forward to.

Whilst hiring a stadium in the midst of a football season could prove to be nigh on impossible, the thought of 70,000 Rugby League fans over two days, packed together, cheering on seven competitive matches is too appealing to overlook.

However, in fairness to the event organisers, they were definitely in a difficult situation. The Millennium Stadium could have been made unavailable for the next weekend, there could have been no viable alternatives.

Yet, we have ended up with an underwhelming sporting event which has been effectively crowded out from the public’s imagination by the sporting media and which runs the risk of being little more than an embarrassing footnote.

Still, at least it’s not Leeds v Crusaders again.

As for what this means to the betting markets, well it won’t be good news. Liquidity in 2010 was hugely down from 2009 and I suspect that’s a trend that will continue in 2011. As for this particular weekend, most of the money is bound to be traded on Rugby Union at the expense of Rugby League. I would guess that the St Helens v Wigan and Bradford v Leeds games should be good but I certainly don’t hold out much hope for the rest of the games.

It’s also disappointing that the advantage from the first game of the season is likely to be missing. Usually, there are some massive opportunities in the market as home advantage and team strength is massively overrated. However, with all games at neutral venues and having a derby element, the chance of these is low. Still, hopefully there will be sufficient in play liquidity to make a reasonable profit.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    It's John from the blog 'Betfair profit and loss'. I know this is a little desperate, but is there any chance I could borrow 250 pounds until Friday, as that's when I next have funds available. I'm missing out on all these events and chances to profit :-( I will see it as a favour and reward you in future. Btw, I made 27k last year, but have had a bad month. That's why it has come to this.

    Thanks for any help you can offer,