Brian McDermott believes Rugby League cannot claim to be serious about growing the sport following Super League’s decision to kick Toronto Wolfpack to the curb.
In a historic day for the sport last Monday, seven of eleven Super League clubs rejected the Wolfpack and effectively consigned the club to the history books.
It came after a controversial build-up to the vote, which saw an ‘independent’ report issued on the viability and worth of a Canadian club in Super League, with a claim that a Canadian club added little or no value to Super League.
McDermott, the Toronto head coach, had said ahead of the decision he hoped the sport would be “brave, dynamic and willing to change”, but instead, he has been left dismayed by the short-sightedness of the decision.
“Some clubs in Super League have a civil war going on almost between them and the RFL,” McDermott said.
“Forget Covid, there are some financial strains going on within the game, the ramifications of the TV deal, then add Covid to that, then expansion first and foremost, then expansion Canada secondly. It’s almost impossible to come up with any sort of plan that covers all those concerns, so therefore that decision should not lie with so many people.
“Our decision that was voted on Monday should never have included so many elements of the game, an independent enquiry that wasn’t really independent, that said something really woolly with no real evidence.
“What they’ve said is Toronto won’t work in an already saturated market. But if you want to talk about saturated markets, how about the M62 corridor?
“Wigan will not get regular 20,000 crowds under the current format and Leeds Rhinos won’t produce those figures. If you’ve walked the walk you’re allowed an opinion. But I remember how Super League was in the first ten years, and I’ll repeat myself, I remember how Super League was, the atmosphere at games and it was breathtaking. The sport still is breathtaking, and what the players produce is still top-notch. When you put them in front of 20,000 people you’re going to have a brilliant product you can commercialise. But currently, with what we produce, the TV companies are in the driving seat.
“It’s simple. The slice of the pie Super League clubs are getting is going to be thinner next year if Toronto get in on full distribution.
“You’ve got a team that has convincingly won both leagues and got promoted to Super League, and yes, it’s had one or two issues with its existence, but the fact is it’s hugely followed in Toronto. At no stage am I saying it’s one of the big brothers, but in three short years it’s generated an average of 8,000 supporters and reminds me of what Super League used to be in the first ten years.
“That’s fact, there’s evidence, that’s not a rumour coming from over the pond, it’s tangible, on a piece of paper. There were 1.7 million people ticking a box, filling a form out in the city and surrounding areas saying they were avid Wolfpack fans.”
He continued: “I’m not a business guy, but in my time at London and Toronto I’ve come to understand that it’s not about whether they come to the game, whether they all pay or not; this is why I think there’s been a smokescreen. The independent report is quoting that some don’t pay to come into the ground. Peter Deakin kicked off the best franchise Super League has seen in Bradford Bulls, and we had around 3,500 people in our final 1995/96 winter game. One month after that when we played Castleford in Super League, we had 10,500 people there and it was brilliant.
“I read what he said once about getting people through the gate. Of course, he gave out free tickets but you have to get it off the ground and give it a nudge, and eventually we’ll get a database of a helluva lot more people.
“I’m not sure how many Wolfpack have, but in time to come that database could be huge. Then you go to a potential sponsor who is going to sponsor Toronto Wolfpack and you can turn around and say we have 1.7 million eyeballs on all these platforms.
“I want to know how these people are experts and if so are they so confident this is the right decision? This is a massive decision. If the game is to recover from this it will take a number of years and, if it ever does, is their judgement so final they’ll end it with a click of the fingers.
“I’m not scoring points, I’m not being a petulant guy having a pop when I say this. On Monday we had a chance to be what we hope the sport would be. Ambitious, expansionist, brave and willing to go and do something.
“That’s what we could have done. We could have sat back and said thanks for voting in favour of the Wolfpack and continuing to be the sport we want to be, but unfortunately, they confirmed what we all fear the sport is. It’s, at the moment, I’m not going to say this with finality as there could be twist and turns here, but it appears to me, it appears it’s happy. When I say happy I mean the Super League owners are happy with where the sport is at.
“I don’t think majority want this, but the minority do and within that minority seven are owners of Super League clubs.”
McDermott now has to look for employment elsewhere, and already there are indications that the NRL club Cronulla Sharks have been in touch to make him an offer to join its coaching staff.
“I’ve not had one call from Super League, not one call to ask if we’re OK or if there’s anything they can do. I think the way the players have been treat is absolutely appalling.
“They’ve gone from being employed to not getting paid for six months and being seen as the enemy. We talk about mental health and the impact this pandemic has had on the psychology of this country. Imagine how those men are feeling. I think it’s been truly appalling.”
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