The 2021 NARL season has been cancelled analysis

The Toronto Wolfpack faces the London Broncos in Round 16 of the 2019 Betfred Championship

The 2021 NARL (North American Rugby League) season announced today that the season has been cancelled. This comes less than a month since the NARL cancelled the 2021 NARL season for the Western Conference.

The news on Monday means that six Eastern Conference teams will start their NARL seasons next year. However, the Toronto Wolfpack announced that the Canada Cup between them and the Ottawa Aces XIII will take place this year. Also, according to James O’Brien of the Hull Daily Mail, there will be exhibition games played between the NARL Eastern Conference teams.

The 2021 NARL season is officially cancelled

The reasons why the 2021 NARL season was cancelled

There are several factors why the NARL was cancelled. Some of the problems were within their control and some were out of their control.

According to Brian Lowe of Rugby League Planet, two of three sponsors pulled out at the eleventh hour causing major disruption. That is why they got two new board members, who were Shan Dassanaike and Paul Kallee-Grover to bring stability to the league. There were four reasons for the sponsors to pull out in the eleventh hour.

The two that were out of their control were timing and the pandemic. Because of the pandemic, people found it hard to give rugby league clubs access to grounds when they had to deal with crowd limits. Then there were the time constraints in getting insurances for players and workers’ compensation coverage.

Then there were two reasons Lowe listed that the NARL had control of. One is that the NARL is an unsanctioned league. This allowed USA Rugby League to state that anyone who plays in the NARL will not play for the USA national men’s rugby league team (USA Hawks).

The other factor was the internal structure of the league. According to Lowe, it is somewhat hierarchal, but the league’s front office has been trying to change that to make the NARL operate more efficiently.

Analysis on the NARL cancelling their season

COVID-19 Situation in the United States of America

The 2021 NARL season seemed like it was rushed. Even with issues not in their control, they could have waited another year. Over 60 percent of U.S. adults have been vaccinated with at least one shot according to Lianna Matt McLernon on June 4. McLernon is a news writer for CIDRAP.

The NBA’s New York Knicks, whose playoffs had ended and the Brooklyn Nets for example are playing their 2021 NBA playoff games at half-capacity. Obviously, the NARL does not have as much money as the NBA, but it shows that there is a very real possibility of fans coming back in the U.S. and Canada with a sizeable crowd next year.

According to the Evidence Synthesis Network, the transmission for COVID-19 is less outdoors than it is indoors, which bodes well for the NARL. Also, the time constraints in getting insurances for players and having workers’ compensation coverage, meant that the league should commence in 2022 and 2021.

The NARL and what they should do with their internal problems

The more concerning factors are the internal ones. The sponsors are likely to come back if these two reasons outlined by Lowe are fixed. The NARL realizes the problem of the hierarchal structure, so that problem is being dealt with. However, the most serious problem is with USA Rugby League.

The NARL should have talked to the USA Rugby League before the league was officially launched. This was completely avoidable, but one that also has a solution. One of those examples can be seen in the Canada Co-Operative Championship Rugby League in Canada where:

“10 per cent of all profits go straight back into the grassroots to grow the next generation of players.”

There are obviously other ways to create good relations between two organizations. However, maybe giving between five-10 per cent of ticket sales to USA Rugby League to grow the grassroots of rugby league in the U.S., might improve relations between the two organizations.

There is also hope on June 22 according to Shelby Thevenot of CIC News. Windsor mayor Drew Dilkins stated that there may be enough people vaccinated to ease border restrictions with the U.S. by June 21.

The Canada Cup will take place this year

Canada Cup will take place between the Ottawa Aces XIII and the Toronto Wolfpack

The Canada Cup between Toronto and Ottawa will take place this year.

2021 Season Update

In the statement itself this is what the Toronto Wolfpack said about the Canada Cup:

“Toronto Wolfpack can confirm that the Canada Cup will still be played as planned and we look forward to playing in the east coast division in 2022.  We have exciting announcements coming over the next two weeks and appreciate as always the patience and support from our fans.”

This is great news for the rugby league fans in Canada. The three games in the Canada Cup will still take place. It will also give the NARL something positive, before turning the calendar year to 2022. There will be three games played this year, with two in Ottawa and one in Toronto. This was said by Ottawa Aces XIII founder Eric Perez according to CBC News.

COVID-19 situation in Ontario and Quebec

There is hope now that the games between the teams could happen. On Monday, the province of Ontario (where both Ottawa and Toronto are situated) reported the fewest number of cases since September. They were 525 cases reported, including 114 cases in Toronto according to Jessica Paton of the Global News.

While, in Ottawa, the number of cases was lower than 40. It is also important to look at the number of cases in the province of Quebec since Ottawa is close to the provincial Quebec border. According to Luca Caruso-Moro of CTV News, the number of cases was below 200 for the second-straight day on Monday.

With that and the rise of vaccinations in Canada, things are looking hopeful for games to take place in Canada, possibly with fans. In the NHL playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, and Montreal Canadiens had fans in the stands with limited capacity. For most of those games, the fans have been the frontline workers bearing the most from the COVID-19 pandemic.

2021 NARL season cancelled overview

News of the 2021 NARL season being cancelled

The 2021 NARL season will not happen this year. The problem with the NARL is that they tried too much in a limited amount of time and when the pandemic was happening. In this case, the first impressions are the most important. For example, look at the Canadian Premier League (Canada’s first-tier pro soccer league) and the Toronto Wolfpack.

Strategies the NARL could use for next year

The CPL took years to become official while the Wolfpack had more than a year to promote their brand and sport to the public. The Wolfpack was formed in February 2016 and played its first home game on May 6, 2017. Within that time period, they generated interest within the rugby league.

One of Wolfpack’s best players, Liam Kay introduced himself on July 22, 2016. This was 10 months before the Wolfpack played their first-ever home game at Lamport Stadium. Also, another idea to consider is a short video on the logo and the club on YouTube.

This could be beneficial for a new league like the NARL. This is what CPL did to try to generate interest and excitement around the league back in 2018. They had their first-ever season in 2019.

On the positive, the NARL could still do many of these things right now. They have time now to promote the league to the masses. This is especially true for a new sport like rugby league, which quite a few North Americans do not know about.

North America is an incredibly large market with a potential for large revenue. MLS, for example, has now become a wealthy professional sports league, with some of the teams owned by large sporting organizations like Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Then there is MLR, which started with only seven teams but has been growing steadily. The professional rugby union league is in its fourth season with plans for expansion in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico.

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