Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Raptors, Toronto FC, Argonauts and Rock. In a city with a smorgasbord of established professional sports teams in Toronto, how is a new team playing an unfamiliar sport to draw in crowds? For the Toronto Wolfpack, the answer is in the game day experience.
Lamport Stadium, the home of the Wolfpack, may not have the glitz of other famous Toronto sporting venues such as Rogers Centre, Air Canada Centre or BMO field but in exchange offers the Wolfpack administration flexibility. The northern end of the ground, dubbed the “Beer Garden” on game days, has several tents serving draught beers from local craft breweries, cocktails, cider and barbeque food. After the rugby league is finished a live band entertains the crowd and the alcohol continues to flow. The Wolfpack are directly engaging with the community through local businesses and musicians which in turn gets more exposure for the club and offers the fans a festival-like atmosphere.
The seating at the stadium is general admission only which leaves fans free to take an optimal vantage point on the halfway line, join the drum beating supporters group in the Eastern stand or soak up the atmosphere of the Beer Garden. The stadium, easily accessed by public transport, is located in Liberty Village, a popular bar and restaurant district in Toronto. Two nearby pubs, 3 Brewers and the Brazen Head Pub show the away games from the UK.
Marquee signing Fuifui Moimoi has quickly become a fan favourite. The 37 year old former New Zealand Kiwi international is devastating at Kingstone Press League One level with heavy hits and defence and unstoppable charges with ball in hand. Moimoi’s athleticism, skill, name and even his haircut are marketable qualities which have connected with Toronto’s fans. The Wolfpack administration made the right move in signing him for the on field and off field benefits to the club.
North American sporting event staples are present including alcohol and snack vendors patrolling the seating areas and the firing off merchandise (as well as hot dogs) into the crowd. The UK and Canadian national anthems are played before every match, which may strike fans from countries such as Australia and the UK as borderline jingoistic but are standard in North American sports.
The crowd results vindicate the Wolfpack’s marketing and game day experience efforts. In spite of showcasing a new sport, the Wolfpack have averaged crowds of 6,638. Their most recent home fixture drew a club record crowd of 7,247. The crowds are far superior to their competitors in Kingstone Press League One and are even comparable to the crowd numbers in Super League, the top flight of UK rugby league. Super League crowds averaged 9,134 in the 2016 season.
The missing ingredient for the fans are competitive games. The Wolfpack have dominated all of their matches in Kingstone Press League One. If promoted to the Kingstone Press Championship as expected, fans can expect some more competitive match-ups next season. The Wolfpack have recruited current St. George-Illawara Dragons players Josh McCrone and Faifai Loa for next season, which signals their intention to earn an instant promotion to Super League.
The Toronto Wolfpack has established a beachhead for rugby league in North America which will be vital to the success of the 2025 World Cup, to be co-hosted by the United States and Canada. If the Wolfpack’s fan base continues to grow there is great potential for wider rugby league expansion in North America.