Super League’s 11 clubs will be urged to turn down Toronto’s readmission to rugby league’s top flight when they meet to decide the Canadian club’s future on Monday.
A damning report from a committee of Super League Europe’s executive, tasked with investigating the submission from the Wolfpack, has concluded that expansion into Canada does not make strategic sense.
But Toronto’s bid, which will be backed by a personal representation from new owner Carlo LiVolsi, has got the support of some of the game’s biggest clubs.
Monday’s vote has been described by one club executive as “historic” with “wide-ranging ramifications for the sport”.
Toronto became the first transatlantic sports team in the top division of any British league when they won promotion to Super League for the 2020 season.
But they had a difficult start to the campaign on the field, failing to win a single league game, and pulled out of the competition in July, two weeks before Super League’s return after lockdown, citing financial problems.
Owner David Argyle, who had invested several million dollars into the club from its inception in 2016, said he had run out of cash.
Players, coaching staff and suppliers were left unpaid, with debts amounting to at least £1m.
New owner LiVolsi, a Canadian entrepreneur and investor, took over the club and promised to honour all debts if they were readmitted to Super League for next season.
However, his first submission to the other Super League clubs was described as lacking detail and he was invited to make another submission, detailing financial and marketing plans for the Wolfpack.
The four-man Super League executive committee, which has looked into this re-submission, concludes there is still not enough evidence for Toronto to be welcomed back.
Their report – some of which has been seen by the BBC – concludes that the submission by LiVolsi does not provide sufficient evidence of long-term funding for the club.
It says there is no further evidence provided to support the prospective new owner’s ability to fund the club.
And they are unable to conclude favourably, due to lack of evidence in the correspondence supplied, on the prospective new owner’s commitment to future funding.
They also say it is apparent that Wolf Grooming, LiVolsi’s Canada-based men’s grooming company, features prominently in the submission and that his motivations seem to be based around the development of that business.
The report also includes findings from sports media specialists FMS that a Canadian team in Super League would not generate a significant uplift in broadcast values in the immediate future.
But the vote still looks set to be close, and it is understood the majority of the game’s bigger clubs are in favour of readmitting Toronto.
‘A historic vote’
Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington told the BBC: “We want a 12-team Super League competition in 2021, with promotion and relegation restored and for Toronto to reclaim their place.
“They (Toronto) won promotion into Super League last season and have been thwarted this year by the Covid epidemic. They now have a new owner who is committed to sorting their player payment issues from this year, and also make a significant future investment in the club and to the game in Canada.”
Warrington chief executive Karl Fitzpatrick said: “We’re entering into it with an open mind and looking forward to the presentation (by Toronto and LiVolsi).
“If they can demonstrate there is value in Toronto and their new ownership model and they can help Super League penetrate the North American market, then we’re open to it.”
As part of their re-entry into Super League, Toronto have also set their own terms. They want an equal share of the central TV funding, something they have not had access to before. And they say they are only willing to accept a two-point deduction next season, as punishment for their withdrawal from this year’s competition.
They are also planning to play all of their matches in England during 2021, because of the ongoing problems created by the coronavirus pandemic, only returning to home matches being staged in Toronto in the 2022 season.
The 11 clubs, plus the Rugby Football League, have one vote each. A straight majority will be enough to either readmit them or exclude them.
There is a concern behind the scenes among some that self-interest may be a factor in voting. The governance of the game has been called into question with individual clubs given so much power.
Hetherington added: “The corporate governance structure of Super League enables member clubs to vote on the demise or otherwise of another member club. So Monday’s vote will be a historic one with wide-ranging ramifications for the sport.
“Rugby league club owners care about their sport and they have a history of doing the right thing. I am hopeful and confident this will be the case on Monday.”