Toronto chief confident of 2021 involvement

Toronto CEO Bob Hunter does not believe the Wolfpack’s journey is over.

An extraordinary week in the club’s history saw them dramatically pull out of the current Super League season on Monday, which triggered a series of events that has left the club’s future hanging in the balance.

The Wolfpack highlighted financial pressures as the reason for their withdrawal, but it was the timing, rather than the reasons, that angered their Super League counterparts, who are now considering their future in the competition.

But with players yet to be paid for June, expulsion from Super League a possibility and owner David Argyle making his investment conditional based on the club receiving a part of the sport’s Sky broadcast money, it has left many questioning their long-term future.

But Hunter believes the club will compete next season, whichever competition that will be in.

“I certainly believe in the club’s future,” he said.

“We have to understand where Super League wants to go. We caused them some serious pain with pulling out so late and that compromises a lot of what they’re doing. We await their thoughts on whether we participate next season.

“They’ve asked us how 2021 would look for us financially. They want to know about our financial stability long-term and that’s understood, we’re preparing budgets and documentation of what 2021 would look like.”

Argyle gave a presentation to clubs on Thursday outlining his vision for the future, which included the Wolfpack being a publicly owned company.

However, Argyle also made it clear that he can’t continue to invest unless the club is given their share of Sky money, a request that wasn’t well received by Super League clubs.

That leaves his future with the club uncertain, and Hunter admits it may lead to the Wolfpack looking down different avenues for investment.

“We’re looking at a number of different options and one David has spoken about publicly is the community-owned based team or even an outright new owner.

“David has somewhat made his involvement conditional on that (Sky funding), but we’ve been very cautious to suggest that if it doesn’t come we have to evaluate our ongoing position. Even a new ownership group or a publicly-owned community club would need those dollars to support the organisation. The club is not viable long-term without distribution.

“One of my roles was to convince Super League that, as part of the family, we brought value and therefore should be a full participant. We never got there but it’s still a long-term objective.

“I’d like to think we have done that. Some would argue committing to signing Sonny Bill was a big undertaking to our club; but don’t believe what you read about what he makes in a year, as I believe it’s highly exaggerated. The international flavour and exposure we bring, they wouldn’t get by having another English club. I think we’ve demonstrated that.

“Toronto is a market of six million people; we were starting to make some noise in Toronto and that’s good for Super League, being international and in a major North America market, we believe we brought value to the Sky contract and potential investment in Super League.”

In Toronto, there has been extensive talk that the MLSE Group could purchase the club.

MLSE is a multi-billion-dollar company that owns four of the city’s major sporting franchises; the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League, basketball champions Toronto Raptors, Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, and MLS side Toronto FC.

Hunter was a former executive at the company and, though he refused to write off the prospect, he said it wasn’t something in the pipeline at present.

“It’s discussed more in the media than in the boardrooms.

“This may not be exactly a great time for them. We’ve had no formal discussions and again, with their two main revenue streams being the Leafs and the Raptors, both of which have been significantly hurt this year, I just don’t think the timing is right. But if they see potential growth in Rugby League, who knows, but the cards would have to fall nicely.

“You never know what their approach might be and how they plan to build value into their organisation. I think it’s a matter of time, but a lot would have to fall into place for it to happen.”

For now, the club is already contemplating a possible return to the Championship, and what that could mean for their squad.

A number of their players, both existing and new recruits for next season, have been offered to rival clubs ahead of the 2021 season.

Argyle had previously confirmed that they were free to secure other clubs for the rest of the year, but Hunter admits they would not stand in the way of those players who could get longer deals elsewhere.

“The preference would be that the guys we have an investment in would be around next spring and ready to go again. But we understand that if a potential opportunity presents itself for a more long-term and stable environment, we would support that.

“There’s Sonny Bill and Ricky Leutele and 15 others we’d love to have back, but we’ve put them in a precarious position. So we would encourage them to kick on with the club, but if they came to us and said they’d prefer to sign a longer term deal, we wouldn’t stand in their way.

“Nobody wants to go back to the Championship, as we’ve worked so hard to get here, but if our penalty is to go back we will accept that penalty and put together a squad that will be competitive and challenge for promotion next year. You take your lumps and the cards you’re handed and try to turn.

“But there’s a whole bunch of cards to be played in the next couple of months. There’s the potential for new ownership, and potential approaches, even from the UK, of acquiring the asset. They are all things to assess at the appropriate time.”

Hunter, meanwhile, also addressed the club’s inability to pay their players and staff, who will be owed two months of wages by Wednesday.

“We’re still scrambling but working hard,” Hunter said.

“It’s very tough on our guys and we’re trying to communicate as much as possible and trying to get a result. Next weekend is August 1st and we’ve still not resolved July 1st. But David has committed to them getting paid. Where those funds come from remains a challenge for us, but it’s a daily conversation and something we’re trying to resolve.”