North American Rugby League: New York Team Submit Plans To Join English Game

Plans for a Rugby League team in New York have recently been submitted to the Rugby Football League (RFL). In doing so, those proposing such a team are attempting to follow in the footsteps of Toronto Wolfpack, a Canadian club whom started in League 1 and whom were promoted to the Championship in 2017 at the first time of asking.

With these plans, as well as Chairman of the Toronto club – Eric Perez – underlining his desire for two more North American teams, there is a brand new question facing Rugby League as a whole: can the game be successful in a continent where even the words “Rugby League” meant nothing just a few decades ago?

The consortium, funded by three mystery English multi-millionaires, behind the charge for the New York club intends to get the green light in time to enter the English competition in 2019. But, rather arrogantly, the consortium aim to enter at Championship level, not in the third tier as Toronto did for 2017, and be promoted to Super League within two years of their creation.

Once this has been achieved, they’re targeting becoming the game’s first trans-Atlantic champions – a brave aim for a club that doesn’t even exist yet. But, consortium spokesman Ricky Wilby insists their goals are not far-fetched, so long as the game supports their involvement.

The RFL has approved the club in principle, but there is a nervous wait for the already-established clubs to give the go-ahead. If this is successful, the club will start competing in the 2019 season, most likely in League 1. Could another North American gamble work?

Investment in New York is there already

Co-founder of the proposed New York club, Tom Scott, told a media briefing in Leeds that, like Toronto, the New York club would not seek any central funding and that they have already secured 10million US dollars in investment from wealthy backers.

“We have a small consortium of high-networking individuals, one member of which has made New York his home, and all have a significant love for the game. We will be self-sufficient.”

– Tom Scott, co-founder.

Costs covered

Like their Canadian counterparts in Toronto, New York would also cover all travel and accommodation costs of visiting teams, following their success in securing agreements with a travel company and hotel chain. It is a hefty responsibility to bare, though; Toronto spent a whopping £7million in their inaugural season, but Wilby insists that the finances are there for at least three years.

“We have a small consortium of high-networth individuals, one member of which has made New York his home, and all have a significant love for the game,”

– Co-founder Tom Scott

On the field, the team would also play in two-week blocks of home and away fixtures so continued travelling would not be a major issue. The New York club would also aim to have a minimum of five American players within a 30-man full-time squad in order to boost the national sport as a whole.

Summer game benefits

Organisers say playing in the summer would avoid a direct clash with the NFL – one of the US’ most revered sports – and they are confident of building a fan base of 10,000 in the first year which is an ambitious target considering Toronto averaged 7,000 spectators in their maiden season. The founders also aspire to double these figures within three years to bring it on a par with the New York Red Bulls soccer team.

The structures for the team are also in place. A training complex in Warwick, a one-hour drive from New York City, will be the team’s base. And, on match days, a home game will take place at the 25,000-seat Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, a 20-minute train ride from the World Trade Centre, with transport links to and from the ground.

Co-founder hopes

Wilby who has already made three fact-finding trips to New York in the last six months, told the briefing the consortium have plans to build solid foundations for rugby league in the city.

“We want to grow the sport in North America and increase the pool of players which would ultimately increase the chances of success for the USA national team.”

– Ricky Wilby.

Wilby says the consortium also hope to acquire approval to stage a Super League fixture at the Red Bull Arena in 2017 and have offered to host an RFL delegation in February.

It is not just a team and money that the consortium needs however to succeed; it is the media exposure and the need for the community on the ground to embrace it. But, organisers are confident of attracting a television deal and have pledged to spread the game into schools and the local community to improve and enhance New Yorkers’ knowledge of the sport and the potential team.

Eric Perez round two

This New York development comes in the wake of a pledge from Toronto Wolfpack founder Eric Perez to launch a second Canadian club in the next six months and a prediction that there could be up to six North American teams within five years.

Besides this, Perez is also gearing himself to launch bids for two more North American rugby league sides, believed to be in Hamilton and Boston, and is aiming to begin negotiations with the RFL for the clubs to be created in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

“I’m hoping that within the next six months we can make a formal announcement. I can’t really say where they are right now.

“I don’t know where the Hamilton rumour came from, but it would be a logical choice. Hamilton is about an hour away from Toronto. There’s about a million people in the area, but between Toronto and Hamilton there are 12 million people.

“I can’t confirm or deny (Boston), but you are very well informed. It’s a good speculation, but there could be other cities in the mix.”

-Eric Perez.

Perez comes across as a ‘dream big’ type of person and, as has become clear, Toronto was never going to be his only venture into the rugby league world.

“When we started this journey, we knew that one team is not enough to yield what you need to yield from the market.” he said. “To bring revenues, to really start bringing new money into the sport you’ve got to have multi-markets.”

– Eric Perez.

Potential in North America

The game is growing at a tremendous pace in North America. The United States will host the 2025 World Cup and the Hawks’ 2017 World Cup captain, Mark Offerdahl, who played in New York’s tri-state area for the Connecticut Wildcats, but is now in the Championship with London Broncos, is confident the ambitious project can be successful.

“There’s lots of potential. Rugby union has gone crazy in the last 10 years but they also love rugby league. At the time of the last World Cup, the game was fractured in the US but now everyone is working together and new teams are forming every year. There are 13 or 14 now with a lot of ex-college players who pick up the game very easily.”

– Mark Offerdahl

Whatever the outcome of these projects in North America, it provides exciting exposure for a game that needs it in the wake of the Zak Hardaker drugs scandal. Taking the sport to the ‘Big Apple’ may well be biting off more than the consortium can chew, but, it is a fascinating idea and could, if successful, expand rugby league like never before.

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