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Toronto Wolfpack promotion gives Betfred Super League North American presence

BRADFORD, ENGLAND - AUGUST 04: The Toronto Wolfpack team pose for a photograph with their fans after the Betfred Championship match between Bradford Bulls and Toronto Wolfpack at Odsal Stadium on August 04, 2019 in Bradford, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)

Toronto Wolfpack gained promotion to the Betfred Super League over the weekend to give the English-based rugby league top-flight competition a North American presence in 2020.

Toronto defeated Featherstone Rovers 24-6 in front of a sell-out crowd of 9,974 at Lamport Stadium in Canada to win the Betfred Championship Grand Final, otherwise known as the Million Pound Game.

Toronto – who are the world’s first professional transatlantic sporting team – will join French team Catalans Dragons in Super League, which is predominately made up of teams from northern England, the rugby league’s heartland.

Toronto were formed in 2016 with the aim of reaching Super League within five years. They achieved their mission in just three years after starting life in the third-tier League 1 in 2017 and spending two seasons in the Betfred Championship.

Last week, the Rugby Football League approved Toronto’s eligibility to participate in Super League.

It is hoped that Toronto’s promotion – as well as further international expansion to large markets– will lead to significant commercial revenues for both the club and the Super League as a whole.

“We hope to have a higher profile now we’re on a higher stage. It’s just a fantastic story,” Toronto head coach Brian McDermott said. “Super League needs to be able to sell a final to some potential investors or a TV deal which says it’s going to be competed for by big city teams. Because in five years’ time if the Super League or the [knockout competition] Challenge Cup finals are still competed for by small towns in the north of England – Featherstone are a magnificent story and so are Salford – but who are we going to sell that to is the interesting point.”

In May, the Catalans Dragons drew a record 31,555 fans for a Super League game against Wigan Warriors at the Nou Camp, the home of LaLiga giants FC Barcelona.

Meanwhile, in April ownership groups from New York and Ottawa were given the green light to enter teams in League 1 in the coming years.

In Super League, Toronto will have to pay for the transportation and accommodation costs of visiting teams, a burden eased by a sponsorship deal with Air Transat. It also has a full-time base in Manchester for when the team plays in England.

The team will also have to upgrade the city-owned Lamport Stadium, which also serves as the practice facility of the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts.

Meanwhile, this season the team paid to produce home telecasts of its games in Britain and Canada in order to showcase the team. It is unclear if this will continue in Super League.

Likewise, it remains unknown if Toronto will also continue to negotiate its own TV deals or share in Super League broadcast revenues.

In June, Toronto owner David Argyle quit as chairman and chief executive of the club over racist comments he made to a Swinton player. Former Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment executive Bob Hunter now runs the ream as the chairman and interim CEO.