Super League, the top tier of English rugby league, has postponed the start of its 2021 season in an effort to maximise the chances of having fans back in stadia.
Super League announced in November that the new season would commence on March 11, but this has now been pushed back to March 25 following talks with broadcast partner Sky Sports.
The latest national COVID-19 lockdown, which has removed the possibility of having fans in stadia, has led to the rethink, with matchday revenue critical to the business models of Super League clubs. In November, the UK Government confirmed a £300m (€337.5m/$409.6m) cash injection for “major spectator sports” in England, with rugby league included.
The Sports Winter Survival Package was designed to support sports through the winter period, from national governing bodies through to clubs, that have been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. The Rugby Football League (RFL) was poised to receive £12m. The Government said this would be delivered as a top-up to the existing loan scheme announced in May, to reflect updated circumstances.
Following yesterday’s (Thursday’s) announcement, Super League must now decide whether to retain the traditional 27-round format or reduce the number of games. Super League said it will continue to review the fixture schedule, but confirmed there is no change to the season end date, with the Grand Final to be played on October 9 at Old Trafford.
Super League broke with tradition for the finale to its 2020 season as Hull’s KCOM Stadium hosted the first Grand Final played away from Old Trafford. The game moved from its traditional Saturday staging to be played behind closed doors at the home of Super League team Hull FC on Friday, November 27. St Helens defeated local rivals Wigan Warriors 8-4 in a dramatic encounter.
The decision to move the Grand Final away from Old Trafford for the first time was due to Premier League football club Manchester United’s congested fixture schedule at the end of November. Old Trafford had staged the game since the Grand Final was formed in 1998, but COVID-19’s impact on the rugby league and football calendars led to organisers deciding this wouldn’t be the case for the 2020 season.