Keeping The Magic In Newcastle: Rugby League Weekend Returns To The Toon

Callum Walker
Callum Walker

For the fourth year in succession, Newcastle United’s St James’ Park will host one of Rugby League’s showpiece events: the Magic Weekend. Since its inaugural year in the North-East (2015), Newcastle has drawn the three highest aggregate attendances in the 11 years of the Magic Weekend, and is there any wonder why? A vibrant city with a plethora of attractions and bars, the decision to first move the idea to Newcastle has proved an inspired one.

The place where it all started

The first destination was Cardiff and its famous Millennium Stadium. Then, after just two years in Wales, the RFL went north to Scotland and Edinburgh’s Murrayfield. Again, after a mere two years, the event once more returned to Cardiff for a sole year.

For these five seasons, the Magic Weekend concept did seem to have potential, but had been, so far, somewhat disappointing. Out of the five weekends held in Wales and Scotland between 2007 and 2011, only two registered over 60,000 fans over the course of the two days.

Was this surprising? No. It is a costly venture anyway forking out money for away games on top of a season ticket, but to ask fans – most of whom followed clubs in Yorkshire and Lancashire – to spend time and effort travelling to Wales and Scotland just seemed a far-fetched idea. The RFL took note; the 2012 Weekend hit the blue side of Manchester with the Etihad Stadium playing host to Super League’s finest.

Manchester: the ‘Magic’ was getting there

It was a big hit with the rugby league fraternity; a smaller stadium with a more potent atmosphere, with fantastic transport links to and from the stadium and not far from home for a lot of the fans, the Etihad witnessed an average of just under 64,000 spectators for the three years that Manchester held the event for.

But, it wasn’t enough. Enthusiasm was waning for another Manchester year in 2015. Fans wanted something more; a city full of life. Whilst Manchester has a certain hub about it, it compares little to that which Newcastle generates. The ‘Toon’ was chosen as Magic Weekend’s next destination. It was a choice that the RFL could not be happier with: an average of 67,000 spectators in three years flocked to the home of the Magpies to see rugby league for the first time on the turf that the likes of Alan Shearer and David Ginola had graced in the past.

Success in Newcastle

Newcastle is a city which the rugby league fraternity have embraced with vim and vigour. Its nightlife is up there with the best in the country with Bigg Market and the Quayside area of the city centre offering a different, but still a memorable, type of fun to that which fans witness on the St James’ field. But, there are also places to go and things to do for families with small children.

The Victoria Tunnel, Jesmond Dene Park, The Discovery Musuem and Newcastle Castle are just some of the places of interest which can entertain the children before the main attraction starts on the pitch. Because of this, Newcastle’s homely feel has brought fans together in a way in which Cardiff, Edinburgh and Manchester all failed to do and has generated excitement for the event which did not seem possible just a few years prior.

Fans want Newcastle

When news eked out that the RFL were open to moving the event from the North East, the news was, therefore, met with cries of disdain as Newcastle is the place where most feel the Magic Weekend has finally found its ‘home’. Moreover, when the decision was announced that Newcastle would in fact retain the Weekend for 2018, fans from far and wide were relieved and thrilled that they could, once more, soak up that infamous atmosphere by the side of the River Tyne.

And, the benefit is reciprocal; Newcastle’s economy has thrived off hosting the Weekend. In 2015, an estimated £4.2m was generated, with restaurants and bars experiencing between 40-50% increases in trade over the two-day event. Hotels in the city have also reported a record weekend for occupancy, with rates up between 25-30% across the board. And, even more staggering, city centre footfall increased by 37%, higher than when Newcastle hosted the Olympic football during London 2012.

“The figures are staggering. Magic Weekend for us has been the biggest event of the year so far and will rank number three behind the Great North Run and the Rugby World Cup in terms of occupancy rates and business success.”

– Mark Davidson, general manager of the Sandman Signature Hotel.


A crowd of just under 59,000 entered the Millennium Stadium on 5 and 6 May 2007 to witness the idea for the first time. 2018 could finally see the Magic Weekend breach the 70,000-spectator mark, which, in its maiden year just ten years ago, seemed impossible. The possibility of attracting over 70,000 people has been made possible by just one thing: Newcastle.

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