A Q&A with Toronto Wolfpack’s prospective new owner Carlo LiVolsi

Members of the media were introduced to Toronto’s prospective new owner Carlo LiVolsi on Wednesday. This is everything he had to say.

His background…

Essentially, I’ve been the beauty distribution business servicing major retailers worldwide for the last 18 years. I own about 12, 13 businesses that the majority are predominantly in beauty space. I’m a shareholder and board member of a publicly-traded company that’s the largest manufacturer in Canada and top two in North America. Predominantly I hang my hat selling major to Fortune 500 (companies) around the world. There’s Woolworths in Australia, I do business with Boots in the UK, Walmart which is our largest customer.

The reason I’m interested in the Wolfpack is very simply that I’m a founding shareholder, so I know enough about the team, I’m not a rugby enthusiast but I love sports. I’ve played a lot of competitive sports internationally and travelled a lot for them. Essentially, I feel that the prior ownership did a very good job of putting a good product on the field but was devoid of the basic structure that you need to run a business and I think that my success in the last 18 years of how to run a business strategically and making sure that the foundation is solid is the one key factor that I bring to the table that will help the team. The club side, the performance there has spoken for itself and they’ve done a very good job, just not financially monetising and structuring the business in a way that was physically responsible and that’s where I plan to excel and take this to another level.

Can you outline how you believe you can make this club profitable given the amount of money it has taken to get it where it is so far?

“David (Argyle) and I have known each other because I’ve invested a lot of money into financial deals he’s been involved in. I think the first thing is this, in any business and any expectation, whether you’re a parent, running a company or sports, you can’t over promise and under deliver. The key thing here is making sure you set the expectations low enough that you understand what the realities are. From my perspective, part of the problem is that a lot of money has been spent and wasted in the wrong areas. David wanted to be liked by all and wanted to be known as a magnet which he was never.

I think the first thing you do in a business is you look at the P&L. You look at your balance statement and your finance sheet and where your synergies lie in your company so you can monetise in a certain way. From a structure perspective, I have very good people internally that can help streamline the business from the financial side.

The second part is this, I own a brand that I believe will help monetise the league and the team. It’s called Wolf Grooming, we’re going to launch next year in the UK and this brand itself will help catapult into a marketing machine. From my perspective, grooming brands are a sector of the marketplace that’s worth a lot of money, a lot more than a Super League team would go for. I believe that by taking the brand itself, building a story around the guys, the players and injecting that into the core of what Super League is today will help it succeed.

It comes down to sponsorship, I donate a lot of money to charities and have good relationships with companies. I’m a stable person, a family guy and I have my roots here, so I can call upon the business community that I know so I can get a lot of good sponsorship. That’s why I’m confident that I can succeed.

We’ve heard a lot about what Super League and the RFL want to see from you, what do you need from them to make this takeover take place?

I won’t skirt around this question because this is important and I’ll tell you exactly where it is. My opinion is we should be treated equally and as fairly as the other 11 clubs. That’s a big part of it. You have to look at it from this perspective, Wolfpack pays for every team to travel to and from Toronto. That’s not fair but that was what was agreed upon, so fine.

If the Wolfpack is going to absorb this cost that benefits everyone else, forget all the problems of the past year and forget the financial portion of it. When you look at the team itself and how it’s galvanized the Super League and attracted more teams to the Super League, it’s been a great success.

Strictly from a performance, forget David Argyle and all that other stuff. Focus strictly on that and you can’t, there’s nobody who can legitimately argue that it hasn’t been a success. So why should the club have to pay twice the amount of every other club to participate in this league? It’s not fair.

So if I’m a partner and I believe I’m going to be one of the better partners because I have a successful track record and I know how synergistically I can build this league through Wolf Grooming and other things, I feel we should be treated like every other team. If we’re going to pay for everyone else’s travel which is fine, we should be compensated on the other side. That to me is important. There are those who will argue against it but I always say you have to see the forest from the trees.

From a personal level and as a businessman, what’s your opinion on the way Toronto Wolfpack has acted in terms of players and companies not being paid?

“It’s disgusting. Listen, I can get into… I know David Argyle more than anyone does, I chose months ago not to speak to him anymore because I didn’t like some of the things he did. My belief is that you don’t try to promote yourself to be something you’re not for the sake of people liking you from an ego perspective. I think it’s unfair to the players who have worked hard and have rent to pay and they can’t even get paid what they’re owed. I think that’s dishonest and it’s not the way you run a business or live your life.

If you read anything about me I want it to only be positive. I don’t want headlines about me, I’m not even comfortable with them talking about me, I’d rather them talk about my brand and the team and how we plan to grow from that perspective.

From a personal perspective, I feel for all the players. I can only say that if we’re given the opportunity things are going to be much different, they will prosper under us, they’re going to make more money and be treated like family versus outcasts how they were treated before. There’s no excuse for not paying your bills, you don’t go into an agreement then not pay the people that help you.

Will all the outstanding debts be paid if your takeover goes through, and what if Super League say no to you being readmitted?

From my perspective, if we’re awarded the club, we will pay all obligations to the players. I don’t know why Super League would say no, I really don’t understand why because you’ve spent four years marketing this whole thing to get to Super League, it’s got a tremendous fanbase, notoriety and momentum from a club perspective, the financial side will take care of itself, people will forget about the sins of the past ownership if you have the right people involved and we’re that group. If we get awarded the team we will remedy the financial obligations that are owed retrospective wages.

Will any company that has an outstanding bill, will you settle that debt as well?

I’ll be honest, I’m owed money personally. David owed everybody including the local bartender money. It really comes down to… I’m being completely honest because I don’t lie and make things up. Number one the players get paid first, 100% of what they’re owed, that’s non-negotiable as long as we take over.

As far as obligations to any supplier, I’ll tell you it’s probably going to be negotiated because I don’t even know what’s owed specifically because all these things are coming out of the woodwork so we’d have to make sure we manage things correctly from that perspective. That’s the truth.

Can you tell us a bit more about this Wolf Grooming product and how it will benefit Super League rather than just Toronto Wolfpack?

It’s something I’m passionate about. I’m a shareholder of Canada’s largest manufacturing facility. It’s a lead certified facility. LEED, it’s essentially the first sustainable manufacturer facility of its kind in North America when it was built a few years back.

We have a women’s line called Flow which is a sustainable brand, then what we did was we launched a men’s brand line called Wolf which is Flow spelt backwards.

The premise of Wolf essentially is focused on the men’s grooming category which is a multi-billion dollar segment of the marketplace. My strategy always was when I spoke to David that there’s a lot of synergy between Wolf and Wolfpack, let’s get players involved and the Super League involved. It was always supposed to happen but it always got kyboshed at the end because David had his ulterior motives with other things. Wolf essentially is a lifestyle brand that encompasses a shaving cream, a shampoo, freestyling products and a moisturiser.

We’re coming out with a line called Wolf Black which is CBD enhanced products at a high end. The products themselves perform really, really well. The products are all sustainably made. The goal here is to partner with the Super League and its teams and almost become a distributor of this product and market them to the 20 million eyeballs that see Super League through a year and build almost like what Red Bull has done with Formula 1 and all these sports they’ve advertised in. I have a very robust plan I believe can make this successful. The male is the largest portion of the fanbase in rugby and I believe we can build this into a $100 million dollar revenue-wise for Super League over five years.

What’s your opinion on the Sonny Bill Williams deal, the benefits of it and whether you’d like to see Sonny back next year?

I think that from a marketing perspective it was a smart deal to be had if you had the money to do it. If you’re going to do a deal like that you have to be on solid ground. Would I love to have him back? Absolutely, I think there would be some great synergies for that, but right now if I could be honest, I’m so far removed from where the club needs to be from a team perspective because I want to make sure it’s on solid ground financially first. The confidence has to be there from the players so the first thing you do is you pay the players and then put a good plan in place and then you can get more talent to come on the team, but it’s difficult to do that without gaining the confidence of the team first. 100%, I would love to get Sonny Bill Williams in the fold and more talent around there. My goal for the Wolfpack is to be one of the top teams for years to come.

Can you tell us about the talks you had with Ralph Rimmer and Robert Elstone last week?

I’ve spoken to also, I had a call with Gary (Hetherington). He’s a wonderful man and I have had a separate conversation about a few things this morning. I think they’ve all been nice and respectful about the situation we’re in.

I understand the position they’re in. Imagine you own a house you’re renting out and your tenant defaults on payment, you’re a little concerned letting them back in. I understand the trepidation but you have to look at the two and separate the two. Do they feel the team was a positive influence for Super League? Yes. Then you look at the other side. The issues are all easily fixed because I’m solid financially, I’m rooted in the community, I donate to charities and I’m pretty good at making people forget the past. I think Ralph recognises that, I’ve had some good conversations with him and I hope to win over the rest of them and all I ask is that I’m given an opportunity to be available to do so.”

Is it Super League or bust?

It really is. It’s Super League or bust, there’s no other alternative from my perspective, I’m not interested in anything other than that.

Is it a five-year plan you’ve put forward?

We have a five-year plan we’ve put forward. In five years time we want to win the whole thing. I’m very competitive, I have three kids, my two boys play sports. I’m a competitive person, I hate losing more than anything. The first thing I’ll do is make sure we’re on a sound financial footing. We’ll build the business from the ground up and the rest of the owners better watch because we’ll be one of the best teams for years to come. We’ll go after the top players, we’ll be aggressive and we’ll listen to the people who know the sport too, that’s not my job. My job is to essentially make sure we have the money and build our business through the Wolf Grooming brand I’ve pitched to the Super League. Do I think we’ll be successful in five years? Absolutely.

Do you have shares and if your bid goes through will you be the sole owner?

I’d be the sole owner. Right now as far as I’m concerned it’s insolvent, there’s debt and nothing there. The team from that perspective is worthless and you’re assuming the debt. I got involved because David and I were friends and doing other business together. I’m sure my shares have been diluted like everyone else’s. I only put money in originally once and then I loaned him money, that wasn’t an investment into the team, but a loan as we’re friends and I trusted him. The actual investment I’m assuming is going to be a lot and will start over with me having 100% control of the team. I may bring in a strategic branding partner, I’ve a few things in mind but until I have this deal done I will own 100%. I may bring someone in as a minor stakeholder just to be clear, I think that’s well known and recognised, but I’m not privy to say because I don’t own the team yet.