While Rugby League in the northern hemisphere is approaching a return date, it will likely be a while still before fans are back in the stands.
With large gatherings of people still restricted at the moment in England, France and Canada, fans definitely won’t be at the grounds for the immediate future, with a return to the stands subject to approval from health officials.
With that in mind, many clubs will be hit hard financially, as ticket sales are a huge portion of teams’ budgets. This is especially true for the Toronto Wolfpack, who don’t take a portion of the Sky Sports television revenue, and rely more heavily than most on ticket sales. Couple the loss of ticket revenue with the costs of flying across the Atlantic Ocean on a regular basis, and it makes no sense for the team to travel to Toronto until they can play in front of fans again.
There is also, of course, the requirement to quarantine and self-isolate, and in Canada, people entering the country must quarantine themselves for 14 days. This makes it impossible to play games in Toronto, and League Express reported a few weeks ago that the Wolfpack have already begun speaking to Championship clubs about using their grounds to play their “home” games.
Although they understand the situation, it is still disappointing for Wolfpack fans, who won’t get to see their side in their maiden Super League campaign, or welcome their new major signings, including Kallum Watkins and Sonny Bill Williams.
“It’s sad, but understandable,” said Genghis Campbell, who has been a fan since the inaugural 2017 season.
“You can’t put sport in front of public health. I’m sad there won’t be a game, but at least there’s TV.
“It’s worrying for me that Toronto have fallen between the two governments’ support schemes,” he added.
“They don’t seem to be getting any support from the Canadian government, and they don’t seem to be getting any support from the British government. I guess we have to hope that David Argyle is able to get us through until we get home games again.”
“I’m not surprised,” said Nicholas Mew, another long-time Wolfpack supporter, of the situation the club is in.
“Am I disappointed? Absolutely, this is some of the best fun I’ve had in years, but it makes so much sense not to (come to Toronto this season).”
The lack of a Canadian TV deal is adding insult to injury for Wolfpack fans, and without them coming to play in Toronto, there is the risk that the momentum they’ve built in the busy Toronto sports market might start to slow down.
“It’s hugely frustrating,” added Mew.
“If you don’t have them in person, you gotta have them on TV to keep them at the forefront of people’s minds.”
For many fans, going to a Wolfpack game is more than going to watch Rugby League. It’s a place to hang out with fellow fans, almost like a giant party, which people can’t seem to get enough of.
“The gameday experience that the Wolfpack put together is more than just a sporting event,” said Sher, from popular social media duo Sher and Lil.
“They’ve got stuff going on at halftime, music going, and of course the game itself.
“And something that’s unique to sports, at least here in North America, is that after the game the players come out and walk around the field, and start shaking hands, talking to fans, taking selfies, mingling in the beer garden. That experience is something that is very unique to sport in North America, and to get to meet and get to know some of the athletes on a personal level is pretty amazing.”
Lamport Stadium is clearly a special place for so many people, and there are thousands of hardcore Wolfpack fans who can’t wait to be back at the stadium as soon as possible, and in the league they’ve been waiting years to get a taste of.