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Toronto Wolfpack seeks new owners after Super League agreement is terminated

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Canadian transatlantic rugby league team Toronto Wolfpack is seeking new ownership after its agreement to participate in the Betfed Super League was terminated.

Toronto majority owner David Argyle is already in with talks potential ownership groups from both the United States and the United Kingdom, the team has announced.

One such potential buyer is the consortium behind the proposed New York City-based franchise.

“It’s certainly something of interest and we’ve spoken extensively with the Wolfpack management team,” New York Rugby League founder Ricky Wilby told Total Rugby League.

“Subject to completing our due diligence, it would certainly be an avenue we’ll be exploring and increasing our interest in. It’s something both us and the Wolfpack would like to conclude quickly,” Wilby said.

Any such deal is likely to hinge on Toronto’s participation in Super League in 2021, for which the club still needs to secure a new participation agreement.

But it appears that Toronto will first need new ownership – or at least proof of financial sustainability – to secure such an agreement, with many players reportedly owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in wages.

According to Total Rugby League, the New York consortium has agreed to pay this year’s wages and take on all the debts the club has stacked up since its inception as part of the deal. It is unclear if the deal would result in relocating the Toronto franchise to New York, though it appears likely.

In a statement, Toronto said the withdrawal of the Super League agreement was “disappointing but not unexpected” following its decision to withdraw from the 2020 season less than two weeks before the scheduled restart of the campaign.

The team’s first season in the Super League began with huge promise but it has ended as a complete and utter disaster.

After the world’s first transatlantic sports team secured promotion to English rugby league’s top flight late last year, the Canada-based franchise made a major splash in the global game by bringing in cross-code rugby international Sonny Bill Williams on a two-year contract worth around £5m ($6.4m).

However, things quickly turned sour on and off the field as Toronto lost its first six league matches, firmly rooting the team to the bottom of the table and raising the threat of immediate relegation.

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic provided another body blow as the loss-making Toronto – which does not share in Sky Sports broadcast revenues – suffered major cash flow issues after being deprived of its ability to stage up to 11 planned home games at Lamport Stadium in Toronto, Canada, which are a major revenue source for the team.

Players and staff were paid late on multiple occasions, severely reducing morale, while a request for a six-figure loan from Super League was reportedly rejected. The team was also not eligible for loans from the British Government designed to help companies through the health crisis, unlike its England-based counterparts.

Toronto said last month that it “fully intends” to field a team in the 2021 season but this seems unlikely at present.

“With the right talent pool and with good coaching and with our fan support, we can make a go of it if we’re allowed in the Championship. If we are demoted then we will work very hard and diligently to get back up. But we have to prove our value to the RFL,” Toronto chairman and chief executive Bob Hunter told SportBusiness last month.

“We are hoping that should Super League put us into default – which they can according to the agreement – that possibly the RFL will let us back into the Championship,” Hunter said.

Meanwhile, Featherstone Rovers are seeking formal discussions to be admitted to the Super League in 2021, with promotion and relegation having been scrapped for this season.

The club said in a statement: “Featherstone Rovers believe that the club is best positioned to fulfill any vacant positions within Super League due to the impressive infrastructure that has been developed at the club over previous seasons.”