“Will it bring in new revenue the other clubs will be able to share in?”
Those were the words of Super League chief executive Robert Elstone when explaining what Super League wanted from Toronto Wolfpack.
Elstone wants to know if Toronto can fill the coffers of his other eleven clubs, who all benefitted to the sum of £140,000 each this year, while Toronto didn’t take any central distribution.
Scrutiny of the Wolfpack shouldn’t be discouraged, especially given the recent mess that has left players and staff unpaid for over four months. That’s an inexplicable and disgraceful situation.
But if Super League are ready to dissect the viability and the monetary value of Toronto, let’s hope they will look a bit closer to home too.
Their recent accounts were published last month for what was Elstone’s first year in the hot seat.
One of his remits was to increase commercial and sponsorship income. Sponsorship income has declined from £2.024 million in 2018 to £1.675 million in 2019, a decrease of 17.2%. This, despite having his own team, in its own office in central Manchester, at its own cost, a large part of which is a duplication of costs across the sport’s two executive bodies, Super League Europe and the RFL.
Why has this happened?
Perhaps Elstone should also have a look at the other clubs. Of the eleven remaining Super League clubs only two, Castleford and Catalans, have managed to increase their attendances over a ten-year period. Has this been addressed? Don’t count on it.
These clubs, of course, take central distribution money from the game annually. What do they have to do to get it? Stay in Super League for another year. They don’t have to prove their viability, prove their commercial value, prove how they are growing their club or helping to grow the sport. It’s an annual handout for them to spend how they see fit.
Most, of course, spend it funding their playing squad. Most clubs spend it on overseas imports who command six-figure packages. But don’t forget that many clubs were reluctant to bring back reserve grade, deemed essential by coaches to the development of young domestic stars, because it cost about the same amount as a guy from overseas.
Reserve grade, by the way, was the first thing binned to cut costs as a result of Sky rebates next year.
And the list goes on. Six years on from the licensing era, two clubs in Super League still play in grounds deemed unacceptable at that time.
Clubs far more geographically blessed than Toronto are struggling, and in some cases have a long history of failing to produce homegrown talent. That, of course, is a stick to prod the Wolfpack with but conveniently not used against the seemingly faultless UK-based rest.
Super League’s minimum standards are practically non-existent yet they want the world from Toronto. Better yet, they want to know how Toronto can make money for all the rest, in the process, but they don’t seem to fancy investigating why they themselves are making less money.
Scrutiny is healthy but it shouldn’t be isolated or applied only when convenient.
If Elstone wants to scrutinise one club, he should scrutinise all, and that includes his own team.
“The club has to prove it is viable in its own right, firstly, but the question beyond that is, `Will Super League be better off at some point in the foreseeable future, for having a team in Toronto’?”
That is a valid question Elstone asks, but you could argue it is impossible to answer.
Another valid question is whether Rugby League will be better off in the foreseeable future for having a separate, Super League executive body because, on the evidence we have so far, there is little to suggest that is the case.
It is hard to see Toronto not being back in Super League next year. Their re-admission application, by their own admittance wasn’t up to standard; yet clubs that were reportedly determined to see them kicked out, voted them more time. Clubs that had a reason to get rid of them yet ultimately backed down.
When push came to shove they showed their real hand. So it is realistic to think that Toronto will only be gone if they fall blatantly below standards again.
If and when Toronto do come back, however, it is important there should be a strategy, a plan and a list of objectives they must fulfil.
We would hope the same is also required of the other clubs.