Super League season set to be reduced to 25 fixtures - if Magic Weekend stays

Hull FC fans at Magic Weekend in St James' Park, Newcastle, 2018. (Allan McKenzie/ FC fans at Magic Weekend in St James' Park, Newcastle, 2018. (Allan McKenzie/
Hull FC fans at Magic Weekend in St James' Park, Newcastle, 2018. (Allan McKenzie/
THE Betfred Super League season is likely to be reduced to 25 rounds and Magic Weekend could be put back until later in the season as talks continue about the 2021 campaign.

Super League’s chief commercial officer Rhodri Jones, who is part of the competition’s fixtures working group along with representatives from two clubs, says they have been looking at three main options now the season start has been delayed.

In November, Super League announced a 27 round format beginning on March 11 including four ‘loop’ fixtures and Magic Weekend at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park on May 29/30.

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However, with the country placed back into national lockdown at the start of the month, it was reviewed and switched to a March 25 start date.

With the Grand Final remaining in place on October 9, organisers are now looking at three options of 23 (home and away plus Magic), 25 (two loop fixtures plus Magic) or the original 27 fixtures with Jones saying 25 is the most likely.

“The 25 option recognises we’re starting the season two weeks later and the fixtures working group felt comfortable to lose one home game each,” he explained.

“We won’t make any decisions right now. We will see how it pans out.

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“But the committee recognises there is a fine balance between trying to play too many games - especially in a World Cup year, the load on players, etcetera.

Super League chief commercial officer Rhodri Jones, left, with chief executive Robert Elstone. (SIMON WILKINSON/SWPIX)Super League chief commercial officer Rhodri Jones, left, with chief executive Robert Elstone. (SIMON WILKINSON/SWPIX)
Super League chief commercial officer Rhodri Jones, left, with chief executive Robert Elstone. (SIMON WILKINSON/SWPIX)

“But it also still provides a material season ticket holder offer to those people who have committed to season tickets rolled over from last year but have also bought this year as well.

“We’re still reviewing but the reality of a 27 round format is unrealistic because of the load on players and trying to cram too much in.

“Twenty three feels a little light because of the season ticket offer and we’d might also need a conversation with Sky about our commitments with them so clearly that leaves us with 25.”

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However, Jones says much depends on what happens with Magic Weekend.

“That is pencilled in at the end of May but there are a lot of things to consider with Magic,” he continued.

“It offers six games to the broadcaster, we have an element of commercial income that comes in from the Dacia relationship for Magic Weekend and we’ve obviouisly got some ticket revenues that were paid for in 2020 that have rolled into 2021.

“So, it’s trying to understand how we can best deal with that as well against, in all honesty, public health and the reality of how many people we will be able to have in a stadium in May in Newcastle.

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“We’re in dialogue with Newcastle United and have asked them to consider moving it back in the calendar at which then we’d probably make a more informed judgement on Magic Weekend.”

Jones added: “Whilst I’m saying 25 is probably most likely, depending on the decision on Magic, equally it might be 24 or 26.

“Magic is the first thing we need to box off and make a call on which I’m hopeful over the next few days Newcastle will be able to come back to me on that.

“I think they are very keen to host us but I am aware the Premier League season starts August 7.

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“Bearing in mind pitch renovations are June/July it will be a tight window; the Magic decision leads into what the whole calendar will look like.”

Super League - who will run fixtures on the same weekend as the yet to be confirmed England v Exiles game in June - hopes to be able to announce the finalised fixture list next month.

If it opts for the 25 option it will start with the two rounds of loop fixtures, in all likelihood behind closed doors.

Jones explained: “The thinking there is they are additional games and this means being able to go through them to get to a point where crowds will return when teams have still got to play each other home and away.

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“In terms of the Covid outlook, we had a briefing with someone close to Government and their message was its going to get worse before it gets better.

“We’re probably in the middle of that. The hope is come March-time lockdown measures will hopefully start being lifted at which point areas will go into Tier systems.

“Boris Johnson has said it will likely take us into Easter before we really come out of lockdown measures. That makes our decision to delay until March 25 justified straight away.”

In a bid to be seen by as many spectators as possible, the traditional Easter derby fixtures, including Hull FC v Hull KR and Wigan v St Helens, will be put back to later in the year in what will be called the Rival Round.

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Super League remains confident the competition will kick-off on March 25 regardless of what happens in the interim.

“In all reality we can keep kicking the can down the road and all we’re doing is squashing ourselves and squashing ourselves,” argued Jones, who also revealed Catalans Dragons may relocate to the UK for 2021 rather than fly in and out on the day of games.

“At some point we have to make the decision that we’re starting.

“Clearly, Sky have asked us to start in the last weekend of March.

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“It’s the weekend after the Six Nations has finished, it’s a non-Premier League weekend so it’s an ideal time to start and gives us a platform on their channels for some good scheduling slots.

“We’re not thinking about (delaying further). They’ve given us seven, eight weeks grace as we normally start February 2.”

Although loop fixtures are set to be played at neutral venues, Jones is confident clubs could start playing at their own stadiums as early as the initial round one of home and away games due to the “spectacular job of complying and getting stadium ready” in Covid times.

He says they have looked at how best to incorporate midweek fixtures in 2021.

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“The 27 round calendar is hard; it’s really tough,” added Jones.

“And that’s why we’re concentrating more on how the 25 round calendar would look.

“We’ve tried to spread the midweek games out better than in 2020.

“The learning we had from 2020 was if you play too many games too quickly not only do you run the risk of ruining your next round of fixtures as teams have to drop out but you are actually having to look at the round after because of the 10 day quarantine.

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“So, in the 25 round version, we’ve looked at one in June, July, August and September and there will be no games planned around Challenge Cup rounds.”

There had been discussions about extending the season but, with just a fortnight already between the Grand Final and the start of the World Cup, it has been dismissed.

Jones added: “Also, for whatever reason the World Cup doesn't happen, let’s say, then the reasons for that might be the same reasons we shouldn't even consider going into the autumn.

“Clearly we don’t have the same broad international travel element as the World Cup does but if the World Cup gets cancelled as there’s no crowds in stadiums then there might be more opportunity to get crowds in (for Super League) in October rather than November.”

Meanwhile, the Super League Board are due to meet on Friday but that is principally to discuss plans for the 2022 broadcast deal and private equity options.

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