The Super League season cannot be pushed back any further, competition CCO Rhodri Jones has confirmed.
Clubs will return to the field on March 25th after the season was delayed by two weeks due to the ongoing challenges posed by Covid-19.
But Jones said there was no further flexibility to push the season back further after conversations with Sky, with the season now set to start eight weeks later than usual.
Clubs are now considering three different fixture formats for the season, with a 27, 25 and 23-round structure all tabled.
It’s hoped that fans will be allowed to return for round three, which will start on April 15th. The week before will be the last 16 stage of the Challenge Cup.
Jones suggested that the second of those options was the most likely to be implemented at this stage, to recognise the two-week delay.
He explained: “The 23 rounds would naturally be 11 home, 11 away and Magic Weekend, 25 recognises starting season two weeks later and the working fixtures group felt comfortable to lose one game each. The dialogue we had with the board is we won’t make any decisions right now but we recognise there’s a balance between too many games, especially in a World Cup year while also providing a material schedule for season ticket holders who have committed to season tickets from last year.
“We’re still in that holding pattern of reviewing but a 27-round season is unrealistic on players, 23 feels a little light in terms of season ticket offers so clearly that leaves us with one left which we’ll continue to work on.”
Jones admitted that one of the most important consideration was Magic Weekend. The event is due to be played at the end of May, but uncertainty over the return of crowds brings a number of financial and logistical challenges. Super League has contacted the event holders, Newcastle United, to explore opportunities of pushing the event back to the Summer.
“There’s a lot to consider with Magic,” Jones said.
“It offers six games to the broadcaster, there’s an element of sponsorship money, income from the Dacia relationship and obviously we’ve got ticket revenues paid for that have rolled into 2021. So how we can best deal with that against, in all honesty, public health and also how many we can have in a stadium in May in Newcastle.
“We’re in dialogue with Newcastle United, we’ve asked them to consider moving it back then we’ll make a more informed judgment on Magic Weekend.
“If we’re saying 25 (games) is the most likely, a decision on Magic might make it 24, it might be 26. Magic is the first thing we need a call on and hopefully, Newcastle come back in the next few days. They’re keen to host us but aware they start again early August. Bear in mind pitch renovations, it’s going to be a tight window. The Magic decision leads into what our full calendar looks like.”