How Lamport Stadium became ‘Rugby central’ of the Americas

Lamport Stadium
Lamport Stadium, in Toronto, Canada, has a strange history. For most of its history the stadium has been largely unused. It has now become the ‘rugby central’ for the Americas.

Eric Perez, founder of the Toronto Wolfpack gives a brief history of Lamport Stadium.

“It started out as an insane asylum, and then it was a women’s prison in an area called Liberty Village. it’s called that because when you stepped out of the prison you had Liberty. that’s why it’s called Liberty Village.”

The women’s prison had to be taken down before Lamport Stadium could be built on the same site. However, the area surrounding it is still called Liberty Village (even though there is no prison or asylum at Liberty Village anymore). There was also no history of rugby league at Lamport Stadium.

This was until Eric Perez wanted to bring a rugby league into Canada. According to Toronto Sun’s Yuen, the reason was, “it is like Hockey on grass”. Perez became addicted to rugby league, and formed the Canadian Wolverines national team in 2010.

Canadian Wolverines arrive at Lamport Stadium

The first-ever game at Lamport Stadium was a Canada 36-20 win over USA, with a crowd, more than 7,000 people.

What people forget is without the Canadian Wolverines, there would be no Toronto Wolfpack. According to Sky Sports, Canada had the fifth-highest attendance in all of rugby league; behind only league nations like the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia. This was a big reason why the Toronto Wolfpack was born in the English Rugby League system.

The Toronto Wolfpack, the crown jewel of Lamport Stadium arrived in the spring of 2017. Recognized as the first transatlantic team to start in League One, UK rugby league competition. With that in mind, there were many skeptics that the Wolfpack wouldn’t work.

Being the first transatlantic and pro rugby league team, there were many doubts that a city with a small history of rugby league could ever sustain a professional rugby league team. However, many people were proven wrong as the Wolfpack attendance increased each year.

Toronto Wolfpack: Records and Attendances

2017 Season

The Wolfpack’s season started in the third tier of the Rugby Football League system called League 1. The Wolfpack finished with an impressive 20 wins, one loss, and one draw in their first season as a franchise. This success was helped a lot with blossoming attendances, over the first year of the franchise.

According to Neil Davidson of the Canadian Press, 6,281 fans packed Lamport Stadium nicknamed “The Den.” This type of attendance is higher than even some Super League teams.

When looking at all home games played at Lamport Stadium, the Wolfpack averaged 6,993 people per game. This support – and their performance over this debut season – ensured the Wolfpack would be promoted to the Championship for the 2018 season.

2018 Season

The Wolfpack continued their dominance in the Championship with 20 wins, one tie, and just two losses in the Championship season. The Toronto Wolfpack then finished fourth with five wins and two losses in the 2018 Rugby League qualifiers.

The Wolfpack would have similar attendances at Lamport Stadium. When looking at home fixtures specifically, the attendance rose to 7,215 people per game.

In fact, that record was good enough to host the Million Pound Game and a chance to be promoted to Super League.

The Wolfpack had some real nail biters at Lamport Stadium over 2018. The biggest nail-biter was the MPG game [which drew 9,266 people]. London Broncos were a team that the Wolfpack haad previously beaten in the Super 8s qualifying rounds, but the tables were turned in the crucial end of season match.

It was a 2-4 heartbreaking loss against the London Broncos that prevented them from achieving Super League status.

However, that outcome did not stop the Wolfpackfans from coming to watch the home games in their droves.

To the delight of stakeholders, there was a large attendance rise for the Wolfpack from 2018 to 2019; despite missing out on Super League.

2019 Season

Lamport Stadium had 9,562 people attend the Wolfpack’s home opener against the Swinton Lions. The Wolfpack would draw 7,887 people per game and win 28 of their 29 games. They had more than 9,000 people per game on three occasions! Their continued growth was supported by success in the standings too.

With 9,325 people attending the Championship semi-final game against Toulouse Olympique XIII, the SOLD OUT sign was a common sight in Toronto, and would insist on plans for development [see below].

The most attended rugby league game in Canadian rugby league history took place in the Championship Grand Final. The Toronto Wolfpack faced the Featherstone Rovers with a sellout of 9,974 people.

Success is also the reason why Toronto will have boh a first-tier rugby league and union team situated at Lamport Stadium. This is because of the Toronto Arrows joining US-based pro-rugby union competition, Major League Rugby earlier this year.

Birth of the Toronto Arrows improves Lamport Stadium engagement

The Toronto Arrows, the first and presently only professional rugby union franchise team in Canada, played their first few home games at York Alumni Stadium, before playing their last four home games at Lamport Stadium.

The team was created to give Canadian rugby players an opportunity to play professionally, with 85% of their roster currently being Canadian. Seven of the players that played for the Arrows played for Canada in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The Arrows were also well supported at Lamport Stadium.

The Arrows averaged from 1-3,000 fans. This was good enough to be in the upper echelon [in terms of attendance] in the MLR.

The home games at Lamport Stadium were 2,488 per game and York Alumni Stadium was 1,914. The highest attended at Lamport Stadium was a 22-20 playoff-clinching result over Rugby United New York.

That ensured an opportunity to reach the final in their debut season. Sadly, they lost to Seattle in the playoffs. Although, the higher exposure would be of benefit to the city – and conversely, the future of the site.

Because of the Wolfpack gaining promotion to Super League, both the Arrows and the Wolfpack are going to benefit from a revamped Lamport Stadium in a three-year construction project.

Renovation plans for Lamport Stadium; Rugby central

A three-year construction project will start according to interim CEO Bob Hunter of the Toronto Wolfpack:

“Probably over a three-year period, and we expect to start on it in the next two to three months.

“For example, I hope to have a video screen next year before the season starts. But then it’s a major makeover of the building over a two or three-year period. If capacity were an issue, which I’m obviously hoping it is, then we would already know how we could add more than 2,000 seats.”

The beneficiaries of this project will be the Toronto Wolfpack, the Canadian rugby league team the Wolverines, and the Toronto Arrows. Each will enjoy new facilities, and they will all benefit from having a larger video screen.

This furthers the legacy of Lamport Stadium as the most influential rugby stadium in the Americas.

The Arrows have served as an example to other Canadian cities like Halifax and Vancouver, that a professional rugby union team can be financially viable in Canada. Four home games are scheduled at Lamport in 2020.

Same is true for the Wolfpack. The success of the team has been a big reason why Ottawa and New York City are interested in having pro rugby league teams. For established; and new fans, the Wolfpack will be hoping to play each Super League team once, with a total of 11 homes games in their opening SR season.

Once a stadium with nothing going on, Lamport Stadium is building a brand that goes beyond rugby. Lamport Stadium has become the premier rugby stadium to visit in the Americas. It is one of a select few cities that has a first-tier pro rugby league and union team which should be celebrated.


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