The RFL last week announced that the 2015 Championship season will see the inaugural Championship Summer Bash take place over the weekend of May 23rd and 24th in Blackpool.
Seen as the division’s answer to Super League’s ‘Magic Weekend’, the Summer Bash will consist of a full round of league matches taking place at Bloomfield Road, including four derby games and the first ever League One cup final.
The seaside venue hosted the Northern Rail cup final from 2005 until 2012, attracting crowds of over 8,000 fans on five separate occasions. RFL Chief Operating Officer Ralph Rimmer explained why the town was selected as the Summer Bash’s home in 2015:
“With so much accommodation choice for every rugby league fan over the Bank Holiday Weekend, Blackpool is the perfect destination for the Summer Bash. Blackpool has provided the backdrop to some epic rugby league matches down the years and the restoration of promotion and relegation from 2015, when every minute of every game matters, will produce drama of the highest quality.”
Next year’s event will be kicked off by the League One cup final on the Saturday. The brand new tournament will be contested between the existing fourteen League One sides as well as West Hull and East Leeds. The draw for the first round of the competition takes place next Friday and will be broadcast on BBC radio.
The Cumbrian derby between Workington Town and Whitehaven follows the final, before an intriguing looking match between recently relegated London Broncos and Sheffield Eagles. The other team relegated from this year’s Super League, Bradford Bulls, will bring the curtain down on day one with a mouth watering derby against Richard Marshall’s Halifax.
Sunday’s action begins with the Heavy Woollen derby between Dewsbury Rams and Batley Bulldogs, followed by newly promoted Hunslet Hawks’ Yorkshire derby with Doncaster. The Summer Bash reaches its climax with a repeat of last year’s Grand Final, as Leigh Centurions and Featherstone Rovers do battle.
As well as the on field action, fans will be able to enjoy live music, a fanzone and social media interactions, offering spectators a full weekend of entertainment, as well as sporting drama. Tickets are already on sale, and £30 for the two days seems like superb value. The mascot’s of all twelve Championship clubs visited the seaside resort this week in order to raise publicity of the event.
Many writers and fans of the game have felt that the Championship division has been in need of a major boost in recent years, and – coupled with the return of promotion and relegation – next year’s Summer Bash could dramatically raise the profile of the league. Last year’s lack of live television coverage of the Championship and Championship One divisions seriously hindered the league’s clubs’ exposure to a potential new market of fans, following the success of the 2013 World Cup.
In addition, the League One cup takes on added importance as the clubs involved could be in for a substantial payday for reaching the final, not to mention the potential for their players to play in front of a five-figure crowd.
The RFL must, however, continue to publicize and market the event effectively. All the ingredients are there for a fantastic event that will showcase the very best of the Championship division. However, with the Summer Bash just a week before Super League’s Magic Weekend – held for the first time at Newcastle’s St James’ Park next year – there has to be a fear that the Blackpool extravaganza becomes used as a mere preamble to the more established Super League festival.