Newcastle Falcons have released a noteworthy promotion for their Boxing Day fixture against Sale Sharks. The Falcons have hyped the game with the slogan “Welcome to the True North”. The campaign shows the team’s biggest stars with shreds of snow and fire rising from beneath them. The Game of Thrones vibes is an awesome way to hype the match. Could a ‘Battle of the North’ grow exponentially if marketed correctly? Connor Dickins explores how this Boxing Day fixture could evolve into something massive.
Welcome to the True North!
Boxing Day at Kingston Park Stadium sees northern rivals Newcastle Falcons and @SaleSharksRugby engaging in Gallagher Premiership combat.
— Newcastle Falcons (@FalconsRugby) December 12, 2021
A celebration of Northern Rugby
“Welcome to the North” certainly gives the game some more character. It makes the game feel like a derby even though the clubs are over 150 miles away from each other. Fans could really resonate with the concept of supporting rugby in their region.
The United Rugby Championship (formerly the Pro16) has done a great job of making their festive fixtures feel special. The league has consistently put on big derby matches in this period. This is especially important around Christmas, where fans are often on break from work, but also have plenty of options for how to spend their time. It may not be a ‘local derby’ geographically, but Newcastle Vs Sale could become the derby of the North. Therefore, the first way to build this fixture is simple: ensure Newcastle Vs Sale becomes a traditional fixture for the Christmas holidays.
An Annual Cup
One derby which is utilizing its potential is the 1872 cup between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Regardless of the league standings, the Scottish franchises compete for the trophy during the festive period every year. As the name ‘1872 Cup’ suggests, it dates back to the late 19th century and is believed to be the oldest derby game in the sport. However, there was only a physical trophy introduced for the winner in 1995. With this in mind, a new cup could similarly be introduced for a ‘Battle of the North’ fixture between Newcastle and Sale.
Perhaps it seems silly to add a ‘Mickey Mouse Cup’ to proceedings. Yet having an annual trophy builds tradition and rivalry between the teams. Seemingly banal touches like this help answer the question of “why should I care about this match?” to potential viewers. The prospect of winning a cup could be far more appealing to fans than watching 8th place Newcastle take on 11th place Sale.
The 1872 Cup has been successful for attendance figures. During the 2019/2020 season, Edinburgh struggled to get 6,000 spectators for most home games, but their 1872 Cup match attracted over 27,000 to Murrayfield.
Therefore, a priority could be establishing Newcastle Vs Sale as a festive period fixture and creating a cup to contest for.
Newcastle vs Sharks: Northern Battle
A Double Header
To look at another case study, the ‘London Double Header’ was a joyous day for rugby fans. Prior to Wasps moving to Coventry, the four ‘London clubs’ would face each other across two fixtures at Twickenham. It was a much-anticipated event for rugby fans, regularly attracting over 60,000 fans. It makes for a really attractive product because fans are getting tremendous value with two games included in a ticket.
If the ‘Welcome to the North’ concept is really taken to its limit, a doubleheader could include a Northern team from the Championship. Imagine Newcastle v Sale being preceded by a Doncaster fixture. Some clubs, such as Harlequins and the Barbarians, have paired their men’s and women’s teams to create doubleheaders. The result has been more eyes on the women’s game, and the same principle could apply for Championship fixtures.
If the event gains enough traction, a legendary stadium could also amplify the fixture. This already happens in the Gallagher Premiership, with Harlequins hosting a ‘Big Game’ at Twickenham every year around the Christmas period. Punters love it because they not only get a Harlequins game but a day out at an iconic ground. The Londoners regularly draw over 60,000 for this fixture, so a Northern equivalent could work wonders. Newcastle Falcons have explored this previously, with their match against Sale in 2019 hosted at St James’ Park. As a Boxing Day tradition, perhaps Newcastle vs Sale could be hosted at the Etihad or Old Trafford.
Dare to dream…
Rugby in the North deserves a big day out. Despite various England stars hailing from the North, internationals are scarcely hosted there. Newcastle should be applauded for their imaginative marketing, and perhaps these suggestions get a little carried away. But, with the right build across a few years, Northern clubs and fans alike could benefit from a blockbuster match during Christmas. Whether all these suggestions are feasible is another question, but it just shows what a Newcastle vs Sale fixture could become.
George Ford has left league leaders Leicester for Sale next season. He cited a return to the North as a factor in his decision. Imagine, the England fly-half slotting a last-minute drop goal against Newcastle in front of a packed Old Trafford. It might seem a fantasy now, but with plenty of blueprints to follow, it would hardly be a Christmas miracle.
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