Toronto Wolfpack looks for a new ownership group

The Toronto Wolfpack Chairman and CEO, Bob Hunter has recently revealed that David Argyle is selling the team according to sportspromedia.com. There are four ownership groups interested in the Toronto Wolfpack. This includes takeovers from New York City and Newcastle Rugby Limited.

New Ownership Group Likely for the Toronto Wolfpack

David Argyle Will Walk Away from the Toronto Wolfpack

Argyle is the Australian billionaire that has been funding the Wolfpack since its inception. Unfortunately, 2020 will most likely be the last year that he has a stake in the Wolfpack’s franchise. According to Neil Davidson of The Canadian Press, this is what Toronto Wolfpack CEO Bob Hunter said:

“David is walking away,” Hunter said in an interview. “And the two [groups] that are in I’d call it the horse race, we’re evaluating which is in the best interest of the club and Super League going forward.”

Argyle has done a lot for the Wolfpack. He along with Eric Perez is the main reason why Wolfpack has existed. Furthermore, without Perez or Argyle, there would be no Ottawa Aces XIII without the initial success of the Wolfpack.

There would also be no talk of a New York City rugby league team that plans to play in Harrison, New Jersey. Bryan Thiel, a rugby writer for TSN has revealed that is not the case.

Since that article has been published, there is a third ownership group interested in the Wolfpack.

Three Potential Ownership Groups

New York City Rugby League and Other Potential Ownership Groups

The New York City Rugby League bid is the favourite to buy the Toronto Wolfpack according to Thiel of Defend the Den. Some people have speculated that the New York City ownership group would relocate the team to Harrison, New Jersey. However, according to Thiel, this is not the case.

This is great news for the Toronto Wolfpack fanbase. This means that the team would not relocate to Harrison, New Jersey and would remain as a rugby league franchise in Toronto.

The founder of the New York City rugby league team is Ricky Wilby. He has confirmed talks with the Toronto Wolfpack according to sportsbusiness.com.

“It’s certainly something of interest and we’ve spoken extensively with the Wolfpack management team,” New York Rugby League founder Ricky Wilby told Total Rugby League.

Wilby, who grew up in the United Kingdom, has put a lot of effort into the New York City rugby league bid. It is unclear what will happen to the New York City bid if they buy the Toronto Wolfpack. As of right now, the New York City rugby league team has not been accepted into the Rugby Football League (RFL). Their plan is to start to play in the RFL in 2022.

With the Canadian ownership group, it is unknown what their intentions are. Furthermore, as Thiel mentioned, it might be too late for the Canadian ownership group to get involved. Thiel has updated this story with another potential U.S. ownership group involved.

Newcastle Rugby Limited

It has been revealed on August 4th that Newcastle Rugby Limited ownership group, who owns both the Newcastle Falcons and the Newcastle Thunder are the one seeking to take over the Toronto Wolfpack. This was first reported by Rugby League Diaries.

The story was later given more detail by John Davidson of inews.co.uk. It states that buying the license would fast-track the Thunder into Super League. It is unknown what would happen to the Toronto Wolfpack if this transaction took place.

The Status of Super League and the RFL

The Toronto Wolfpack’s Super League participation agreement has been terminated. Hunter has revealed a restructuring plan coming in the next 7-10 days according to Neil Davidson’s article.

Argyle said that fielding a team next year will depend on rugby league authorities wanting them back. This might also mean not coming back to Super League. There are currently two Championship teams (London Broncos and the Featherstone Rovers) who want to take the Wolfpack’s place in Super League. Robert Elstone, Chief Executive of the RFL just recently confirmed that the 2020 Super League season will have 11 teams according to sportspromedia.com.

Toronto Wolfpack Status with Super League and the RFL

The other issue has to do with central distribution. The Toronto Wolfpack does not get central distribution. When keeping the team in Toronto, the ownership groups will most likely want this to become a reality. Even if the Wolfpack was relegated to a lower league, having central distribution might be enough for the Wolfpack to stay in Toronto.

It also helps that the Ottawa Aces XIII, the other professional Canadian rugby league team has central distribution. This is according to Perez on Sky Sports RL:

“Yes, Ottawa is a different case. Ottawa is a member club. So, we purchased Hemel Stags because it was a member club.”

The difference between the Ottawa Aces XIII and the Toronto Wolfpack is the former is a relocation team and the latter is an expansion team. However, as proven with the Wolfpack, being a member and getting central distribution from the RFL is paramount. Any future ownership groups that want the Toronto Wolfpack would probably want central distribution from the RFL.

It is safe to assume that this is also the case for any future cities involved within rugby league. It is also important to note that the Aces would not have existed without the Wolfpack. This factor should not be overlooked by the RFL.

Toronto Wolfpack Deserves a Professional Rugby League Team

This has been a very tough few months for all Toronto Wolfpack fans. There was a lot of excitement this year with the Wolfpack in Betfred Super League. Unfortunately, with no games at Lamport Stadium due to COVID-19, sports, in general, has taken a major hit.

However, what one cannot dispute is the popularity of the Wolfpack in Toronto. In the 2019 season, the Wolfpack drew 7,882 fans per game in the Championship. Yes, the Thunder will not have to do transatlantic travel and their attendance has also been increasing.

They also have ambitions to get to Super League. However, it is unclear whether they will ever achieve a breakthrough in attendance that the Toronto Wolfpack has experienced.

The Legacy of the Toronto Wolfpack

What is overlooked about Lamport Stadium is that the Toronto Wolfpack are the primary tenants. They are also the most popular team at Lamport Stadium. Yes, the Toronto Arrows (Canada’s only professional rugby union team) also plays at Lamport Stadium.

However, their attendance is less than half of the Wolfpack with 2,488 fans per game last year. The Wolfpack also plays in downtown Toronto, which is a big deal for growing the sport of rugby league in Canada. This is what Perez said in a Sky Sports RL interview:

“Due to the credit of the club, they have been able to thrive and cut through in a market of 6.5 million people. When I say cut-through I mean mainstream media covers it. It’s on the national broadcaster – until this year national broadcaster free to air television. If you walk around Toronto you see Wolfpack cap, gear.”

An example would be in the Wolfpack’s last home game last year against the Featherstone Rovers.

This is a credit to the Toronto Wolfpack employees, marketing and management on making this happen. It showed people how to make transatlantic sports work not just in rugby union leagues like PRO14 and Super Rugby. It also shows how leagues based in North America can breakthrough into the European market. Most notably is the National Football League (NFL) who has shown interest in a team in London, England.

Overview of the Toronto Wolfpack Ownership Situation

The Wolfpack deserve to remain in Toronto. However, there are still many factors still in play.

It is unclear what the Newcastle ownership group wants to do if they take over the Toronto Wolfpack. However, the big news is that it looks like the New York City ownership group is keen to keep the team in Toronto. If they take over the Toronto Wolfpack, they will be many more seasons for the rugby league team in Toronto.

There is also the question of owning two teams. Can ownership groups own more than one professional sports team in the RFL? That is a question that will need answers soon.

In the Americas, Toronto is the only city with both a professional rugby league and union team. The Wolfpack also is currently the second-oldest pro rugby team of either code in the Americas. It would be a shame if Toronto lost their rugby league team.

This is especially true when they have proven that they can support high-level rugby league in Toronto. However, there is still light at the end of the tunnel. As mentioned before, one of the two front-runners seems interested in keeping the team in Toronto. This is a huge development in a developing story that will continue to change in the coming days.

“Main photo credit”


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