Monday Morning Halfback

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There’s already been a ton of guff talked about the Millennium Magic weekend; so here is my tuppence-worth.

It’s a terrific, bold concept that deserves to work. The stadium and location are great. The people of Cardiff are welcoming and rugby-savvy in the main. There’s also a common bond between the tribulations of the South Wales region and those of the heartlands of the league code that ought to be embraced.

So why not allocate each club to a community? Wigan to Roath, Saints to Penarth, Bradford to Cathays, Leeds to Splott etcetera and promote some local rivalry and connection that way?

Ian Bridge

However, the fuzzy maths that seem to be used to derive crowd figures for the two days need to be explored a little. What does the 30,891 figure for day one mean? Is that the average attendance at any given time? Or the peak attendance? Or the total footfall for the day, or the total tickets sold?

I ask because RFL Chief Executive Nigel Wood, does neither himself, nor rugby league any favours when he comes out with statements such as:

Millennium Magic has been a truly uplifting weekend and the best start to a Super League season we have ever had.

The attendance exceeded our expectations and the atmosphere both inside and outside the Millennium Stadium was magnificent.

Whatever else they maybe rugby league fans are no mugs and no fans of marketing spin.

I watched the games on TV and I can tell you Nigel that the atmosphere was definitely not magnificent; it totally lacked the vibrancy and passion that is the core of the rugby league experience. On the plus side, despite the inanity of some of Eddie Hemmings’ comments, it was very well presented by Sky TV; I thought Brian Carney’s analysis was excellent and ought to set the benchmark for others (for example, Jonathon Davies) to follow.

The question that first strikes me is ‘who set a target attendance for the opening round of engage Super League fixtures at 60,000’? And why? Now I know a proper journalist would dig out their yearbook and insert the opening round attendance from last season here … but I haven’t got it to hand, so I won’t. Yet I’m darn sure it was significantly more than the 60,124 who bought tickets to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Surely that, at least, ought to have been the yardstick by which the success of this event was most successfully judged.

I want this event to work; to be a success. Maybe in time it will be.

I get that to put the event on in a ‘traditional’ open stadium in Britain’s unpredictable weather would be impractical (and probably barking mad too); so I understand that the venue options are strictly limited whilst acknowledging the potentially explosive start to Super League that a packed out Old Trafford (Saturday) and City of Manchester Stadium (Sunday) would be.

In the real world that’s not going to happen (global warming excepted). Yet the RFL has weakened the case for Cardiff by allowing the Crusaders to move from the original South Wales development area to Wrexham (still … technically, Wales, I know).

Without accurate analysis of the ticketing information it’s impossible to be sure, but I’d bet that 80-90% of those tickets were sold to post codes in the North West and Yorkshire; with fans from the heartlands supporting the event as best they can in difficult financial times. What needs to be worked on is selling the event to the wider UK, and obviously to Cardiff and environs.

Let’s assume that 10% (6,000) of the event footfall was from the South Wales area then; reasonable as that’s about the figure for Crusaders better attendances down there.

Is that a success or not Neil?

Oughtn’t this event be about attracting and stimulating local interest rather than boosting the income of northern coach firms? It strikes me that Cardiff City Council and partners will likely be quite happy see an influx of 20-30,000 northerners and maybe are not so inclined therefore to promote local involvement; after all this will not significantly contribute to an increased local spend.

That said the onus on promoting the event locally has to fall on the RFL. And here again, unlike a real journo, I speak from ignorance — but what was actually done to promote the event? To make locals connect with it?

For instance, the communities around Cardiff, as in many large cities, are still essentially very ‘local’ oriented, very villagey. So why not allocate each club to a community? Wigan to Roath, Saints to Tiger Bay, etcetera and promote some local rivalry and connection that way? In addition to working with the local community and supporting local events and charities perhaps the clubs could base themselves in the areas for a week or so during the pre-season build-up.

That way each Cardiff community has a chance to engage with the team and identify them as, however nebulously, representing them and their patch on the Millennium Stadium field.

Once that is achieved the net can be cast farther afield in future years, to Newport, Swansea, Neath and Pontypridd, to Pontypool, Bridgend and Aberavon … heck even Wrexham and Rhyl.

So please, RFL marketing …

Don’t tell us when an event has been a success; that only smacks of insecurity. We, the fans, will judge the success or otherwise for ourselves based on what we see and perceive. Tell us instead how you’re planning to improve and enhance it. Give us a glimpse of what we can expect next time.

Show us and the game, not that you can spin with the best; but instead that you have a vision and more a commitment to seeing that vision become reality.

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