Matthew Shaw (MS): Have you seen the impact of signing Sonny Bill Williams that you expected?
Bob Hunter (BH): Right out of the gate. There was lots of speculation for a week, and we even saw memberships swell while that happened. But we’ve had a big boost on sales from our memberships, probably 500 in the first couple of days, and we expect that to go way over 1,000 off the back of this signing alone.
The interest from the corporate standpoint has been significant. We’ve got people calling us now that we’d not heard from before asking how they can connect to the team. Whether that be a kit sponsor, stadium sponsor or stadium signage, there’s been much more interest and we’re convinced we’re going to sell out 11 games.
MS: Where are your membership sales right now?
BH: They’re north of 2,500. That’s significantly up on the last few years but our goal is to get to the 4-5,000 range. We only have 10,000 seats, so it’s a matter of what is the cut-off point. The interest that there just is from the casual fan will drive interest significantly too as they want to see someone of his level.
MS: Is there a fear you will outgrow Lamport? You’re going to have bigger away followings now too.
BH: It’s a great problem to have. We’re working with clubs to make sure that inventory is held. For us, it’s a case of understanding how big the travelling groups will be. Whether it’s 2,000 from Leeds or 2,500 from Hull. We’re already having those discussions. Because they only come once a year it’s important we make it work. We have been told by other Super League officials that Sonny will sell more tickets at their ground.#
MS: Is there potential for you to play at the other stadiums in Toronto, BMO Field or the Rogers Centre, perhaps?
BH: I think both of those buildings provide options for us. The big challenge at BMO Field being a grass pitch, two teams already exist there and having come from that organisation, the sensitivity the Canadian Football damage to the pitch for an MLS team, it exists all the time. The Australia game is intended to be quite late in the season for both teams, so hopefully we can do that.
The Rogers Centre, again, based on the baseball schedule, is certainly an option for us. But the reality is, do you want to play a game in a 60,000 seat stadium when maybe you only really need 20,000 seats. But we’re evaluating both of those options.
MS: Where are you at currently with regards to a TV deal, in both Canada and worldwide.
BH: They are ongoing discussions. Sky owns the rights to Canada and the US so it’s really a matter of whether we’d buy those rights and do it on our own. When you have someone like Sonny with such a high profile, the interest from our Canadian sports networks has certainly raised. Those discussions, again, are taking place now. Internationally, it’s a matter of what dollar value there is in the countries where Sky doesn’t have those rights. It’s something we’re evaluating.
MS: It would surely be very expensive to buy those rights?
BH: We’re early in those discussions, but you’re only going to buy them if you have someone very keen to work with you. The challenge we have in Canada is that rugby isn’t mainstream. We think winning the Championship and the big signing makes it more valuable. We have two significant sports networks and we have to get their interest up.