League Express editor MARTYN SADLER sets out some of the key issues that underlie the bid by Toronto Wolfpack to return to Super League in 2021.
One of the unfortunate consequences of the creation of Super League as a separate body to administer the Super League competition is the bifurcation of decision making, which threatens to do great and irreparable damage to the game.
As I understand it, the Super League board, which consists of representatives of all the Super League clubs, has the right to decide how many clubs there will be in Super League.
But once that decision has been made, the RFL has the right to determine how the relevant number of clubs will be made up.
So if the Super League clubs want to exclude Toronto Wolfpack from the competition next year, they can simply decide that there will only be eleven clubs in Super League.
And that will be the end of the story.
On the other hand, if Super League decides there should be twelve clubs, the RFL will have the opportunity, as I understand it, to invite Toronto back into the competition.
The problem then is that the other Super League clubs may decide not to share any of their broadcast income with the Wolfpack club, which I think would stymie their application.
It’s hardly a secret that there is a major split in the game between Super League’s CEO Robert Elstone and his counterpart at the RFL, Ralph Rimmer, about the merits of Toronto coming back into Super League.
Elstone appears not to want them back, while Rimmer clearly sees the merit of having a North American team.
That split is even reflected in League Express, where you will see that my colleague Garry Schofield is opposed to the Wolfpack, while I am sympathetic to them.
The point is that, as I’ve written many times before, Rugby League in this country appears to be incapable of growing.
While other sports have shown spectacular growth in the number of clubs, participants, broadcast and sponsorship income and media recognition since Super League was created in 1996, we have made virtually no progress at all, other than bringing in the Catalans Dragons.
And who can doubt that the Catalans wouldn’t have been admitted if the Super League clubs had been making that decision prior to their entry in 2006. The decision at that time was made by the RFL and thank goodness it was.
So the question that has to be asked of the Super League clubs is this. Do you want a higher profile for your competition, both nationally and internationally? Or are you content to remain a small sport in a relatively small part of the country?
Is there any point in Super League expanding into North America?
No one loves the north of England more than I do, but I’m not blind to the fact that much of the world lies beyond the M62 corridor, or even West Cumbria.
Toronto is the largest city in Canada and is apparently the fourth largest city in the whole of North America. It is an international centre of business, finance, arts, and culture, and is recognised as one of the most multicultural and cosmopolitan cities in the world. And since 2017 it has had a Rugby League team, thanks to the financial investment of David Argyle, that has managed to be promoted into the top tier of Rugby League after only three years, while not sharing in any of the broadcast income generated by Rugby League and paying for its opponents to fly backwards and forwards from England to Canada.
The Wolfpack has cost the RFL and Super League virtually nothing while generating thousands of new Rugby League fans, many of whom now read this website and subscribe to League Express.
The idea that Rugby League shouldn’t take advantage of this opportunity, while recognising the problems that have arisen for the Wolfpack this year, seems absolutely crazy to me.
Does Canada add value to Super League?
The answer is surely yes, unless Super League is dumb enough to not be able to recognise a tremendous opportunity that is staring it in the face.
And it’s about time that the other Super League clubs recognised that refusing to share their broadcast income with the Wolfpack is a disgrace for a professional competition, which should surely be based on the equality of treatment of its competing clubs.
I’ve written numerous times about the crazy structure of Rugby League’s administration, whereby clubs can vote on the future of other clubs. That has to be a major conflict of interest.
How on earth did we get to this point, where the Super League clubs are prepared to turn their backs on a club that doesn’t actually cost them anything, but which gives untold potential for the international standing of the competition?
Sometimes Rugby League needs to be rescued from itself.
This is an amended and updated version of Martyn Sadler’s ‘Talking Rugby League’ article that first appeared in this week’s issue of League Express. If you would like to take out a subscription to the print or digital version of League Express, you can do so by going to https://www.totalrl.com/league-express/