New York left to play the waiting game

19 December 2018 - Written by John Davidson

It’s been 14 months since the consortium behind a New York a club went public about its plans to enter the RFL’s tier of competitions.

Fourteen long months since they submitted their bid to the RFL to follow in the footsteps of Toronto Wolfpack and enter the England professional tier. They were hoping to join either League 1 or the Championship in 2019.

Since then the New York City Rugby League has been in constant dialogue with the powers that be. Meetings have come and gone with the top brass.

At the start of this year former RFL chief executive Nigel Wood, the current CEO of the Rugby League International Federation, was sent out to New York on a fact-finding mission to check out the specifics of the bid. Wood went on an all-expenses paid trip to the Big Apple to meet and greet, to assess the people behind it and file a report on the bid’s feasibility.

Eleven months on, we still have no report. According to League Weekly on November 19, the RFL is still waiting on Wood to submit his findings. In that story, New York co-founder said he expected the report to reach the RFL soon “then that will go to the RFL Board to determines what’s what.” As I understand it, a month later, that report has still yet to be filed.

This begs a number of questions, namely, what is Wood doing? What is he, and the RFL, waiting for?

It remains curious why Wood was sent out to the American city in the first place. He no longer works for the RFL. He was forced out of his position by Super League clubs, with the top division now a separate entity. This is bid is an RFL matter, not an international rugby league matter.

Now, I haven’t seen the intimate specifics of the bid, or met the investors behind it, apart from what has already been revealed – that they plan to home games at Red Bull Arena and will be based in North America full-time, not part-time like Toronto. Financially or otherwise, the bid may or may not stack up. We simply do not know.

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But at the moment the consortium is being left in the wind. They have not been told no, or yes, or otherwise. They are in limbo. While they originally had made contact with prospective players and coaches, that is now all on hold until they get a decision. There seems little timeframe on when that will be.

They have also been in talks with prospective broadcasters in the US, but those can only go so far now. They are playing the waiting game. Unless they get a decision in the next six weeks, they can kiss playing in the 2020 season goodbye.

This all ties in with the current situation with Toronto, who go into the Championship season in 2019 spending big to eager to snare promotion. There remains several significant elements in Super League who don’t want Toronto in the top flight. There is an undeniable rift in the sport between elements, often from heartland eras, vehemently against the Wolfpack and other similar expansion efforts. You could call it rugby league’s own culture war.

What clouds all this is a lack of strategy at the top level. Toronto joined League 1 in 2017 with little thought to the end-game – What would happen if they made it to Super League? Should we bring in more North American teams? How do we do that? What is the process, the timeframe? What do we want Super League to look like in 10 years? In 20 years?

Allowing Toronto in was a ‘hit and hope strategy’. There had been failures with Paris, Gateshead, Crusaders and others, but so far the Wolfpack has worked. Sure, it has some faults (what doesn’t), but on the whole it has been successful. But what comes next remains up for debate.

Surely if the Wolfpack were granted access then there must have been some will, or least an idea, that more clubs from Canada and the United States would follow. Otherwise it’s a completely illogical move. Putting in just one North American team is not going to result in a lucrative TV deal. Just look at Catalans in France.

So we have the New York bid. There is a Boston bid in the works. Toronto founder Eric Perez appears to be working in the background to get a Hamilton, or another North American city, bid up. There’s also rumours of a Philadelphia ploy.

But all the while we are left waiting in the dark. Not knowing what the plan is, what will happen next, what the strategy is for Super League to evolve.

Oh for some leadership.

 

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