TORONTO Wolfpack were told to stay out on a ‘very, very black day’ for Super League after losing a crunch vote on their top flight existence.
A meeting of the other 11 club bosses, Super League’s board and the Rugby Football League heard the Wolfpack plead its case for staying in after withdrawing for 2020.
But eight of the 13 votes were against prospective owner Carlo LiVolsi's ‘flaky’ proposal getting the go ahead with one abstention – only Leeds, St Helens, Catalans and the Rugby Football League voted yes.
It is believed the battle was mainly over ‘hearts and minds’ but some attempts to win people over at the weekend fell on deaf ears.
And that went against them by a bigger majority than many expected, with Wakefield chief executive Michael Carter saying: “We took their proposal at face value and we still had serious concerns about the viability of it going forward.
“There were some answers within that that we felt were a little bit flaky – we just didn’t think it was credible enough.
“They also weren’t willing to pay off some of the debts that David Argyle had incurred. If you’re not willing to do it that then under the RFL’s rules on insolvency, it should be a 12-point deduction.
“There wasn’t enough substance behind the numbers and I was worried we would be back in exactly the same position. They had a hearing, they have had two gos at it, and this is the outcome.”
SunSport told how a report compiled by Elstone, RFL chair Simon Johnson and independent experts Andy Anson, of the British Olympic Association, and Matthew Wheeler found having a club in Toronto made no commercial sense.
Much of that research is thought to have been done by Anson and Wheeler, as well as broadcast research firm Future Media Services, and those in charge were satisfied they asked the right people the right questions.
However, the submission from the Wolfpack, which was compiled at the same time, cast the proposal in a different light, particularly LiVolsi saying he was willing to invest about £3 million of his own money.
To the point where some believed the initial question may have been in itself flawed.
However, SunSport was told: “The David Argyle legacy hurt a lot of people and them abandoning the season was really disappointing.
“Some clubs were dead set against them but others said, ‘This is one of our own who got fairly promoted.’”
The presence of Anson and Wheeler – who have associations with Elstone from his time in football – raised questions among some doubters.
SunSport contacted Sports Investment Partners, where Wheeler is a partner, but a spokesman insisted they were ‘not sure anyone here was involved in the project.’
It is thought, though, he acted as an individual but when contacted he refused to comment.
Elstone, however, was consistent in his opposition, especially after Toronto’s first submission was described as ‘frankly disappointing.’
Toronto said: “The (second) submission addressed original feedback received from the Super League and member clubs, including improved clarity on what benefits the Wolfpack bring to the league as a whole, as well as detailed plans for the growth of rugby league in Canada.
“The club shares the obvious disappointment of our players, staff, sponsor and partners, as well as incredible fans, at the decision.
“We will now take some time to consider our position and consult further with the current ownership group, led by David Argyle.”
And one Super League club’s chief said: “They spent £10 million in the three Championship years alone to get into Super League and got in legitimately.
“They did not complete the 2020 season because they could not get furlough and did not get the Government loan – no other Super League club could have completed the season without those.
“It’s a very, very black day for Super League.”
Elstone himself said: "On the evidence presented to us, it would not be right for the development of the competition for Super League to accommodate a team in Canada in 2021.
“Every opportunity has been given to Toronto Wolfpack to provide the assurances our clubs need.
“However, our review of the club’s recent submission identified a number of areas of concern, particularly regarding the aggressive revenue targets on which the financial forecasts are based.
“As part of our comprehensive investigation into this whole subject, Super League appointed an independent committee of sports industry experts, with representation from The RFL, to examine commercial opportunities for rugby league in Canada.
“Its findings were unanimous – that operating a team in a fiercely competitive North American sports market was non-strategic and added no material incremental revenue to Super League in the short or medium term.
“Separately, it was also apparent that no assessment of the scale and accessibility of the commercial growth that might accrue to the sport from entering the Canadian market was ever completed prior to the club’s first entry into the sport.”
Toronto’s problems have cast doubt on the due diligence done on them before they were first admitted in 2016 and on Ottawa, who are meant to enter League One next year.
Some say none was done but SunSport understands the RFL is confident what they did, along with financial and commercial analysis, was ‘very thorough’ and that all questions put to the Wolfpack when they first went in were answered.
Now Toronto have been ditched, the next question is, ‘Will Super League have 11 or 12 teams next year?’
A fixtures working group is examining the merits of 11 v 12 but it is understood the RFL has told Super League it needs to revert to 12 teams as soon as possible.
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