Written by Callum Walker
It’s been an ongoing crisis within rugby league and it continues to divide the sport’s fraternity. But, the decision on Toronto Wolfpack’s future looks to be nearing ever closer with new owner Carlo LiVolsi given a month to refine his application and make another presentation via video link after the first one failed to impress.
Whilst the majority of clubs seem willing to listen to what LiVolsi and the Wolfpack have to say on October 23, three handed Toronto a categorical ‘no’ based on what they had seen from the first application submitted.
One of these clubs was one which I have supported since a boy: Castleford Tigers. Why? Who knows? But, the Tigers do not stand alone, especially with Super League leader Robert Elstone echoing their views.
Elstone is understood to be averse to the Canadian project whilst Rugby Football League counterpart Ralph Rimmer supports it. It’s perhaps quite lucky, therefore, that Toronto have been given one more chance to outline their viability.
To stand still is to move backwards in business, and, in a day and age where globalization is taking over, to have two clubs outside of the UK in the top tier of rugby league was impressive to say the least.
Catalans Dragons have already proved their worth to Super League and the vast majority of supporters and pundits accept their credibility. But, let’s not forget that the French side were exempt from relegation for three years to ensure stability.
That, like it would have been for Toronto, was essential to their longevity as a Super League club especially when considering that the Dragons’ first season – 2006 – ended with them finishing bottom.
The Wolfpack, arguably, have been up against it from the start. People were desperate for them to fail and though former owner David Argyle – who was apparently at the crux of the financial issues – is no longer at the club, some still can’t resist sticking the boot in.
— Sky Sports Rugby League (@SkySportsRL) September 27, 2020
Of just over six million people living in and around Toronto, nearly two million of those declared themselves fans of the Wolfpack. That’s almost an extra two million people being made aware of Super League’s brand – a number that you would not find anywhere in the UK.
Remember, this club regularly hit the 8,000-9,000 spectator mark in the Championship; the market is there and so was the excitement. Yes, Toronto’s failure to fulfil their fixtures and the acrimonious exit of Argyle has significantly hampered their chances of being a Super League side in 2021 as well as bringing the sport of rugby league great embarrassment.
The problems did not stop there either; unpaid playing wages of almost £500,000 over three months, outstanding bills to companies as well as expired UK visas for overseas players and the issues just kept on coming.
But, other clubs like Bradford and Wakefield have endured incredibly difficult financial issues in the past, it’s just about finding the right owner. LiVolsi certainly keeps himself to himself – the antithesis of Argyle – and seems to be making all the right noises.
The Canadian was a founding shareholder of the Wolfpack and worked with Argyle on previous deals – an area which could cause concern with regards to the latter’s current reputation.
But, having made his fortune with beauty products stocked in the likes of Walmart in the US and Boots in the UK, LiVolsi plans to connect Super League with his Wolf Grooming brand which launches in 2021. His goals do not end there and the ambition of a $100 million partnership may seem far-fetched, but it’s one which LiVolsi is keen to strive for.
On the flip side, the new owner has stressed the need for a share of the central distribution, pointing to the fact that the Wolfpack pays for other clubs’ travel costs. That’s fair, why shouldn’t the Canadian side be given a slice of the money pie?
Of course, that would mean that the other 11 Super League clubs get slightly less funding which is perhaps where Castleford’s issue lies. But, that view is myopic and dangerous for the sport. A fool-proof plan is most definitely needed after the last debacle, yet Toronto have the potential to be an incredible money-spinner for the sport when it needs it most.
A short-term hit for the league’s poorer clubs would be worth it in the long run if, and it’s a big if, what LiVolso proposes comes to fruition. After one catastrophe clubs are naturally cautious, but LiVolso seems to be ushering in a new, exciting era.
Clubs cannot be stuck in the northern-heartland-mode forever. Well, they can, but it will sound the deathknell of rugby league. This is the chance to let bygones-be-bygones and take the sport forward. Don’t pass up this opportunity.