Super League in talks with Newcastle United over delaying Magic Weekend

PA

Newcastle United have been asked if they could host the Dacia Magic Weekend later in the year as Super League grapples with the complexities of another coronavirus-hit season.

The decision to put back the start date by a fortnight to March 25 has caused a series of ripple effects, not least the number of fixtures to be played before the start of the play-offs in September.

At a media briefing conducted online on Wednesday morning, Rhodri Jones, the league’s chief commercial offer who heads up the fixtures working group, said the original plan to play 27 rounds is now “unrealistic”.

The alternatives under consideration are 25 rounds, which would mean each club losing one more home game, or 23 rounds which would remove the loop fixtures and enable clubs to play each other home and away and keep Magic, although that would need the support of broadcaster Sky Sports.

“There’s a fine balance between playing too many games in terms of burdening the players but also providing a material return for season-ticket holders,” Jones said.

“A 27-game round is unrealistic in terms of the load on the players and 23 feels a little light in terms of season tickets so that naturally leaves us with one left.

“At the moment, 25 is the most likely but, depending on the decision on Magic, it might be 24 or 26. Magic is the first thing we need to box off and make a call on.”

The 2020 Magic Weekend was cancelled due to the pandemic and is scheduled to take place at St James’ Park on the weekend of May 29-30.

“There’s a lot of things to consider with Magic,” Jones said. “It offers six games to the broadcaster 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.

“We’re mindful the Premier League season begins at the start of August.”

Jones says the likelihood is that the first two weeks of the campaign will be played behind closed doors and, although there is nothing to prevent clubs hosting their own fixtures, Jones expects a similar arrangement to 2020 when single venues were used to stage double or triple headers.

Jones announced that league fixtures will be arranged for the weekend of the proposed England v Exiles match at the end of June, with a probable quota on the number of players available from each club, and confirmed there will be no derby games over Easter.

The likelihood is that the opening two rounds will be loop fixtures and that the Wigan-St Helens derby, which has been played over Easter every year since 1989, will be pushed down the calendar, along with the Hull derby, in the hope of getting crowds in by then.

A decision on the fixture format is not expected until next week at the earliest but clubs will receive an update from executive chairman Robert Elstone on his negotiations with Sky over a new television deal and plans for corporate investment at a virtual meeting on Friday.

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