Dear Mr. Draper,
I read that you are contemplating moving the Challenge Cup Final away from Wembley Stadium.
I am sure that you are aware that the Challenge Cup is an eight month long competition that starts out featuring many grassroots clubs and climaxes with a spectacular final at Wembley Stadium, London which not only attracts fans from both competing finalists but the whole Rugby League community. Rugby League’s annual pilgrimage to the national stadium is now seen as one of the biggest dates on the British sporting calendar. How am I sure that you are aware? Because these words have been taken from the RFL website.
Whilst Wembley was being rebuilt the Cup Final went ‘on the road’ taking in such historic grounds as Twickenham, The Millennium Stadium and Murrayfield, but none of these has the long and powerful association that Wembley does with our cup competition. By taking it to another stadium you would be ripping up a massive part of our game and killing the magic of the cup. Imagine the Challenge Cup Final live from The London Stadium as fans strain to see from across the running track, or the build up to a final live from Anfield or the Etihad which are brilliant stadiums, but would be a major step down from the national stadium.
It wouldn’t have been the same for Sheffield Eagles fans coming back from Elland Road after beating Wigan in 1998, or St. Helens travelling home from Villa Park after Bobbie Goulding bombed Bradford Bulls into submission. In the absence of a dedicated national stadium for Rugby League similar to Twickenham, the new Wembley, whether you like it or loath it, is the pinnacle of stadia in the UK and the Challenge Cup is the pinnacle cup competition in Rugby League. They go hand in hand.
I am also concerned with a quote attributed to you:
“Magic Weekend has overtaken it in terms of fans and we’re conscious of that”
Obviously I’m not going to get clarification of that quote so I will have to consider it without this. You are comparing a full weekend event in which every Super League team plays, with heavily discounted tickets and extensive entertainment around the ground to the Challenge Cup Final. You’ll have to excuse me not understanding that. As far as I am aware Magic Weekends highest aggregate attendance was last year at 68,276 (Saturday attendance 39,331, Sunday attendance 28,945) – yet last years Challenge Cup Final attendance was 76,235. I fail to see how Magic Weekend has taken over in terms of fans based on this. Furthermore, do these attendances take into account weekend tickets where the same fans may have been counted twice?
I also wonder if you’ve asked fans what they’d rather win – the Challenge Cup Final or their fixture at Magic Weekend? I’d be surprised if over 90% didn’t plump for silverware over 2 points. I’ve never heard a fan brag for more than a week about winning on the road, the Challenge Cup is a completely different matter.
There is room for a Magic Weekend, but it needs to be incorporated in a way to not skew the fixture list. Personally I don’t believe a 9s tournament would be as popular as the current format either. The future of Magic Weekend needs to be looked at at the same time as you consider when to schedule free weekends for Test matches – but that’s a matter for another day.
Perhaps at the same time, could you consider playing the Challenge Cup round either earlier in the season with the final on the May Bank Holiday weekend, or spread the cup out so each round is played on the first weekend of the month (e.g. for 2018 – 6th round on 6th May 2017, quarter finals 3rd June 2017 etc.) This would avoid confusion about when matches are being played, and as tickets are not included in the cost of a season ticket, give a better chance of those with a payday on the last Friday of the month attending the matches.
Finally, Mr. Draper, I look forward to the possibility of my team reaching two grounds in a season, Old Trafford & Wembley. You have said, rightly, that you want to safeguard the event. Well show the British sporting public that the Challenge Cup Final is more important than a Premier League team borrowing the national stadium. Show them that the likes of Tottenham Hotspur versus West Bromwich Albion isn’t the be all and end all of sports in this country. Show them that we have a product worthy of such a stadium. Show them this and long may we continue at Wembley.
From The Boys Pen