Toronto Wolfpack pull out of remainder of rugby's Super League season
Transatlantic team cites lost revenue, was encountering visa troubles for players
The Toronto Wolfpack won't be taking the pitch when the Super League season resumes Aug. 2 in England, citing "unexpected and overwhelming financial challenges" due to the global pandemic.
In a statement Monday, the transatlantic club said it won't compete in the remainder of the 2020 Coral Challenge Cup as "greatly reduced ticket, sponsorship, merchandise and game day revenue streams have resulted from the loss of all 11 of the team's home Super League games in Toronto."
Toronto played all of its previous games this year in England. And it had planned to continue playing games there this season because of travel and other restrictions.
The club said it intends to field a team in 2021 and will be working with Super League Europe and the Rugby Football League to understand the process moving into next season.
"This decision has not been taken lightly," read the Wolfpack statement. "The Wolfpack would be left covering significant additional costs simply to complete a season of games in the U.K. including COVID testing, stadium rentals, medical costs and player pay increases to align with the rest of the league."
Rugby league authorities, with Super League now down to 10 English clubs and France's Catalan Dragons and needing to redo a revamped schedule announced just last Thursday, seemed less certain about the future.
In a joint statement, the Super League and RFL said they were "very disappointed to learn that Toronto Wolfpack will not be able to fulfil their obligations to Super League 2020."
"Super League Europe and the RFL have been in regular dialogue with the Wolfpack over the past weeks and months regarding the club's ability to take part in the competition," read a statement from Super League, "and firm assurances had been received as recently as last Thursday.
"The club's decision is especially disappointing given the imminent restart of the season."
Last week, The Canadian Press reported rugby league authorities were working with the Wolfpack to resolve a visa issue that could derail the team's attempt to resume play in England this summer.
At issue are the visas that allow New Zealand star Sonny Bill Williams and six other imports — Australia's Josh McCrone, Darcy Lussick and Blake Wallace, Australian-born Samoan international Ricky Leutele and New Zealand's Chase Stanley and Bodene Thompson — to play in England.
The visas allow for six months in England over a year, which is not a problem when the Wolfpack are spending part of the season in Canada.
But the global pandemic has kept the players in England and the visas are slated to expire at the end of the month.
The Wolfpack (0-6-0) hadn't played since March 11 with play suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. Those games were contested in England, where Toronto had planned to continue playing because of travel and other restrictions.
Toronto was to have resumed play Aug. 2 against Hull Kingston Rovers at Leeds Rhinos' Emerald Headingley Stadium.
Should Toronto be able to return in 2021, the question remains in what league would it be slotted. The RFL has yet to announce whether relegation remains in place during the disrupted 2020 season.
Reports of late paycheques
And Toronto fans are left wondering if they will ever see Williams in person. The former All Black was signed last November, drawing worldwide headlines.
The Wolfpack opened the vault to get him, with a two-year deal worth a total of $9 million US, with Williams getting an ownership stake, according to a source granted anonymity because they were not in a position to publicly divulge the information.
In recent days, there have been English reports of late paycheques. The club said Monday that player and staff payroll "has been guaranteed" by Toronto-based Australian entrepreneur David Argyle and "secured by a personal guarantee to the RFL."
The team has had issues before, missing payroll in December 2018.
The Wolfpack were already behind the eight-ball in terms of their agreement first to come into the league and then into Super League. The team does not get a cut of the Sky TV broadcast deal — worth some 2.3 million pounds ($3.94 million Cdn) per team a season.
That essentially covers the salary cap of 2.1 million pounds ($3.6 million) although that number can grow given teams are allowed two marquee players whose salary cap hit is limited to 150,000 pounds ($256,875) per person.
Aces expected to enter 3rd-tier League 1 in 2021
According to the news release, refunds for all 2020 single game tickets as well as season membership refunds that have been requested by individual fans, will be returned by the club to Ticketmaster in the near future in order for the refund process to be fulfilled.
Elsewhere, the Ottawa Aces are set to follow the Wolfpack's footsteps by entering the third-tier League 1 next season. The Ottawa president is Eric Perez, the Wolfpack's founder and first CEO.
At its board meeting Monday, the RFL decided that the Championship and League 1 seasons will not resume this year, given the teams' preference not to play behind closed doors.
Instead the lower-tier clubs will be invited to take part in a voluntary competition this fall, when it is hoped fans might be allowed back, with a prize pot of 250,000 pounds (C$428,280).
The board also ruled there will be no relegation from the 11-team Super League this season.
With files from The Canadian Press