TORONTO — Rugby league authorities called it an “informal, introductory chat” and discussions “with an interested party.”
For the Toronto Wolfpack, it was hopefully the first step back to Super League with a new owner and business plan.
The troubled transatlantic team, which stood down on July 20 citing financial problems prompted by the pandemic, held a 45-minute call Tuesday to present its proposed new owner to Super League executives.
“I thought it went very well. Certainly as well as expected,” said Bob Hunter, chairman and CEO of the Wolfpack.
“We submitted all the documentation. We are now waiting for them to do their due diligence. And hopefully we’ll be talking to them again later in the week or next week.”
The prospective owner, an unidentified Canadian who is part of the existing ownership group, had already talked to Rugby Football League executives.
Hunter’s hope is a decision on the team’s future will be forthcoming by the end of September.
Tuesday marked the deadline set by Super League for Toronto to submit its reapplication paperwork. Super League tore up the Wolfpack’s participation agreement after the club opted not to finish out the 2020 season.
Tuesday also marked another missed payroll for the Wolfpack, who have not been paid since June 10 — when their May cheques arrived late. Majority owner David Argyle, a Toronto-based Australian entrepreneur who is stepping away from the club, has guaranteed the missing pay but has not been in a position to come up the money.
The proposed new owner has said he will sort out the pay situation. But he and the club have a wish list.
Remaining in Super League is one requirement. The Wolfpack started life in the third-tier League 1 in 2017, winning their way first to the second-tier Championship and then Super League — where they were 0-6-0 when the pandemic halted play in March.
In the absence of Toronto, Super League is down to 11 teams — 10 from England and France’s Catalan Dragons.
Toronto also wants to be an equal partner in Super League. That means getting its share of the league’s central distribution funding, with more than 90 per cent of that coming from Super League’s broadcast deal with Sky TV and the rest from league-wide sponsorships.
Toronto has not got any of that to date.
“It’s been on the table (for some time),” Hunter said Wednesday. “But certainly for the new owner, it’s a key part of going forward … The team cannot be viable long-term without participation in those central revenues.”
The Sky TV broadcast deal has been worth some 2.3 million pounds ($4 million) per team a season. That number will likely drop in the short-term with Sky getting a chunk back because of the shortened 2020 season.
The TV payment essentially covers the salary cap of 2.1 million pounds ($3.65 million) although that number can grow given teams are allowed two marquee players whose salary cap hit is limited to 150,000 pounds ($260,980) per person.
Toronto’s new business plan calls for “very aggressive growth” in ticket sales and sponsorships, according to Hunter who expects over “a multitude of different discussions with rugby league authorities over the next two weeks.”
In the meantime, some Wolfpack players are already wearing new colours via loan deals.
They include former All Black Sonny Bill Williams (Sydney Roosters), Australian-born Samoan international Ricky Leutele (Melbourne Storm), New Zealand’s Bodene Thompson (Leeds Rhinos) and England’s Gareth O’Brien (Castleford Tigers).
Williams is due to make his return to Australia’s NRL on Saturday when the Roosters play the Canberra Raiders.
Thursday’s Super League match between Wakefield Trinity and Leeds Rhinos, meanwhile, has been postponed after two Wakefield players tested positive for COVID-19. In other COVID news, six Warrington players have been told to self-isolate.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 2, 2020.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press