It’s perhaps the most common trade in a social-media related Toronto tit-for-tat.
The Wolfpack’s away following, or apparent lack of. Their haters bemoan their lack of UK-based supporters and cite it as a reason they are not good for the game. Their protestors counter by saying clubs shouldn’t rely on away followings to fill their grounds.
Both sides of the argument have their merits. But, as is so often the case on social media, the arguments are based on opinion and rumour rather than fact.
So what impact have Toronto truly had on attendances within the game? We’ve trawled through the annals of the Rugby League Yearbook, and found some interesting statistics.
In Toronto’s three years of existence, they played away from home against 23 rival teams, spanning from the now re-named South Wales Ironmen, all the way through to Leeds Rhinos during the 2018 Qualifiers.
When looking at the results, we looked at each club’s average attendance and compared it to what they attracted when they played the Wolfpack.
In 2017, Toronto played away from home against nine teams (everyone played each other once, splitting home and away games, before the Super 8s split).
Of those nine clubs, eight boasted an above-average attendance when they hosted Toronto Wolfpack.
Only Whitehaven were unable to match their average crowd, with 643 attending compared to their 703 average.
Of those clubs, three enjoyed their highest attendance of the year.
Moving into 2018, Toronto played in the Championship.
But the trend continued. Eight of the eleven clubs who entertained them enjoyed above-average crowds. In the cases of Featherstone, Leigh and Toulouse, they pulled in their biggest crowds of the entire campaign.
The Super 8s saw Toronto play at the homes of Super League opposition for the first time. Leeds and Salford both entertained the Wolfpack, though both did attract lower than average crowds.
Coming into 2019, the Championship expanded to 14 teams. However, their pulling power did seem to drop somewhat.
Only six teams were able to attract larger than average crowds, with seven reporting lower than average.
Yet of the 35 figures we’ve looked at, on 22 occasions, clubs attracted above average crowds.
But perhaps the most interesting statistic is that not one club has suffered their worst attendance of the season when hosting Toronto Wolfpack. In contrast, five have pulled in their best.
- 62% of Toronto games drew an above-average attendance for the home side
- Not one club suffered their worst attendance of the season when hosting Toronto Wolfpack
- Five clubs attracted their best attendance of the season when hosting Toronto Wolfpack
(Average attendance – attendance vs Toronto)
Keighley Cougars 784-1128
London Skolars 451-1524
Newcastle Thunder 863-1087
North Wales Crusaders 342-590
South Wales Ironmen 219-462
York City Knights 1055-2602
Barrow Raiders 1233-1266
Batley Bulldogs 1029-1157
Dewsbury Rams 969-932
Featherstone Rovers 2084-3131
Leigh Centurions 3247-5452
London Broncos 896-1000
Rochdale Hornets 573-504
Sheffield Eagles 684-863
Toulouse Olympique 2538-3313
Salford Red Devils 2823-2509
Leeds Rhinos 12352-11565
Barrow Raiders 1389-1417
Batley Bulldogs 1347-894
Bradford Bulls 4339-3421
Dewsbury Rams 1231-1251
Featherstone Rovers 2235-2101
Leigh Centurions 3259-3142
Rochdale Hornets 795-694
Sheffield Eagles 944-932
Swinton Lions 1078-1281
Toulouse Olympique 2488-6103
York City Knights 2125-2518
Widnes Vikings 4321-3812
It’s clear that Toronto’s ability to attract decent crowds for other clubs must go beyond their away following.
It would be foolish to suggest their travelling support is bigger than the majority of clubs they have faced.
Though to the contrary, to say they bring none at all is wide of the mark. Almost 200 Toronto fans filled out a section of Odsal last season.
So what is it about Toronto?
It could be down to several contributing factors.
There is, of course, the novelty element of the franchise. Playing Toronto is fresh and different, which may have proven to be a greater attraction to casual supporters.
It could be the fact they possess better-known players in their squad, which makes their games more appealing.
But the most likely cause is down to the clubs themselves, who have marketed their games with the Wolfpack.
York, as an example, hosted a joint press conference with Toronto in 2017. Other clubs have produced video packages that they haven’t for their other matches. Others have had special entry offers for Canadians living within the local community.
That said, the fact that clubs are finding their games with Toronto easier to promote suggests Toronto are simply more marketable than most other clubs. The fact many clubs have taken it upon themselves to promote their games with the Canadian club differently suggests they see it as an opportunity.
There is, of course, the media impact as well, with Toronto gaining more column inches than most.
Maybe their market appeal has outweighed the travelling support of other clubs. If that’s the case, it’s an undoubted positive on their part. At the same time, it will be interesting to see if they can keep that up in Super League, where their away ‘following’ will now be compared to much bigger clubs. Sonny Bill Williams, you would imagine, will help them do that, but only time will tell.
But whichever conclusion you decided to come to, there is one thing you can almost certainly claim as fact.
Toronto Wolfpack have not damaged attendances. They’ve actually enhanced them.
The upcoming edition of the Rugby League Yearbook is available to buy now. Get our copy ordered at https://www.totalrl.com/shop/product/rugby-league-yearbook-2019-2020/ or call us at 01484 401895.