In 2017 we will see a new team enter the British leagues and while over the last few years we have seen plenty of new teams enter League 1 this time will have something different.
The new side is Canadian. Yeah that’s right the Toronto Wolfpack are the latest addition to Rugby League in the UK. The man behind the Wolfpack is CEO Eric Perez. He is Toronto born and bread and he will see his dream of a Canadian rugby league side become a reality next season when the Wolfpack take the field at Lamport stadium otherwise known as “The Den.”
I spoke to Eric about a number of different subjects about the Wolfpack including how the club were born, the aims and goals of Toronto and whether a team based 3,500 miles away from the rest of its competitors can survive.
“My dream to bring Rugby League to Canada started about six years ago, I had the first enquiry with the RFL back in 2013.”
The plan was for Toronto to join Super League straight away under the old franchise system but when it was decided to bring back promotion & relegation between Super League and the Championship the offer was retracted and if the Wolfpack are to reach Super League they will have to do it the old fashioned way of promotion. Perez hopes that can become a reality in 5-10 years and with a coaching staff of Paul Rowley, Brian Noble & Simon Finnigan his hopes aren’t misplaced. Toronto wanted to show that are taking their entrance into the British leagues seriously and by appointing the right management team they were the first steps to prove that. Their interest is only in Rugby League.
Compared to many clubs within the entire game Perez expects to have full houses right from the outset. “I can’t see why we shouldn’t have at least 7000 people every game, we regularly got that sort of crowd when Canadian national games where held at Lamport so why shouldn’t we get that with the Wolfpack.” Perez expects the people of Toronto to embrace the Wolfpack and it’s success should be mirrored by the national side.
The player pool is understandably small in Canada and therefore we shouldn’t expect a truly Canadian/North American squad straight away but the club will be looking to bring players in from across all sports and that North America should be the next major resource for Rugby League players. Perez believes that the addition of the Wolfpack and therefore North America to Northern Hemisphere RL is only going to help close the gap on our Southern Hemisphere counterparts.
“In Australia Rugby League is a top sport, the only way we are going to get that is new markets. Toronto is a city with 6.5 million people and 10 million within a two hour radius, it is a major city and the gateway to North America. The move to expand into the Americas will be the first move in the inevitable takeover by the Northern Hemisphere over the Southern Hemisphere and the NRL to become the top brand of Rugby League in the world.” Perez said when asked about what the Wolfpack’s addition to the game can do. “With the Wolfpack we are trying to make the game Sexy and bring new younger fans to the sport and we can do that when people see 10,000 fans watching the Toronto Wolfpack when playing in League 1.”
One of the doubts about the Wolfpack entering the pyramid at the bottom would be the funds of part time teams having to travel over to Toronto including flights, hotels and other expenses while in Canada. But Perez says it will not be a problem. “All the teams who visit Toronto will have their expenses paid but we expect to have most of that sponsored. If needed to we would continue to do this all the way to Super League if we reach that. But with success and then further expansion into North America you could see revenue double, triple or even quadruple in the next ten years and therefore the arrangement would no longer be viable or needed.”
Obviously with Toronto entering the British leagues another competition they would get to enter would be the Challenge Cup. They would be the first non-European side to enter the competition. “It would be a great honour and I truly believe that the Wolfpack will be the first non-British side to win the competition.”
When the news was announced that the Wolfpack would join League 1 it was met with a mixed reaction and many doubted the venture saying it would end the same way that Paris, North Wales & London have gone. When asked about the doubters Perez answer was short and sweet. “Haters are gonna hate, just watch what we do.”
One of the possible fixtures for Toronto next season could be Toulouse, this would be the first all non-British fixture played in the British game. It would be huge for the game in the Northern Hemisphere and surely would attract media attention both sides of the pond.
Whether the Wolfpack is a success straight away or whether it takes time you feel that the success of Canada’s first professional rugby league team can grow the game in North America and make Rugby League become a truly international sport.
All at Nothingbutleague would like to wish Eric Perez and Toronto Wolfpack all the best in their brand new venture into British rugby league and look forward to working with them as their story grows and grows.