Super League, the top tier of English rugby league, has said it is focusing on running a condensed 25-round 2021 season, with efforts being made to push back its Magic Weekend event in order to maximise the chances of fans attending.

Super League announced in November that the new season would commence on March 11, but this was last week 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, led to the rethink, with matchday revenue critical to the business models of Super League clubs.

Following last week’s announcement, Super League has had to decide whether to retain the traditional 27-round format or reduce the number of games. Super League confirmed there would be no change to the season end date, with the Grand Final to be played on October 9 at Old Trafford, but has now shed light on its thinking for the rest of the season.

“A 27-round season in this space of time is tough, really tough, on the players,” Super League’s chief commercial officer, Rhodri Jones, told The Guardian. “That’s why our working group are concentrating on a 25-round season. You then lose two weeks where you’re not playing midweek fixtures. The lesson we learned in 2020 was if you play too many games too quickly, you run the risk of losing future fixtures. We’ve tried to space them out.”

The reworking of the calendar is also set to impact on Super League’s traditional Easter derbies, including Wigan Warriors versus St Helens and Hull FC versus Hull KR. These are now due to be put back to later in the season, along with Magic Weekend.

A valuable event commercially for Super League, Magic Weekend sees one round of fixtures played out at a single venue over a weekend. Magic Weekend was last year due to return to Newcastle’s St James’ Park stadium on May 23-24 following a one-year absence, but was cancelled due to COVID-19.

The event was held in Newcastle for five years from 2014 to 2018 but moved to Liverpool’s Anfield stadium for its 2019 edition. For 2021, it has been handed a provisional slot of May 29-30, after Newcastle United’s Premier League football commitments at St James’ Park are finished.

Super League is now seeking to push this back, with Jones telling the BBC: “There’s a lot of things to consider with Magic. It offers six games to the broadcaster (Sky) and we have an element of commercial money that comes in from it.

“We’re trying to understand the best deal we can put together, while putting that against public health concerns and the reality of how many people we’re going to be able to get in there in Newcastle. We’re in dialogue with Newcastle United and have asked them to consider moving it back in the calendar, at which point we’ll have to make a more informed judgement.”

Image: Super League