The ‘For Sale’ sign is sitting on the Toronto Wolfpack’s front lawn.
But there won’t be an open house.
Over the past few weeks, things have gone from bad to worse for Wolfpack owner David Argyle. With funds running dry, Argyle is embroiled in a PR nightmare with unpaid staff and players. Try as he might, Argyle and the Wolfpack just don’t work anymore.
Despite all the good will cultivated among fans from the four years and roughly $30-million CDN he’s invested in the club, the turmoil of the last few weeks has made the mining magnate somewhat of a pariah in certain Rugby League circles.
So, just weeks after Argyle revealed his plan to turn the Wolfpack into the Green Bay Packers of Rugby League, he is selling the team. While that revelation is still somewhat raw in the eyes of the public, it’s something Chairman and CEO Bob Hunter has been aware of for a while.
‘I would say we’ve known for a month that we were in a complicated financial situation, and one which David was having trouble continuing,’ Hunter explained on Tuesday morning. ‘So these discussions with potential new ownership, have been very aggressive over the last two weeks. I think it’s been probably a month since we’ve figured out that David can no longer continue because he doesn’t have the resources.’
Things were progressing quickly with Toronto, and now they’re going even faster because of what happened on Monday when the Betfred Super League terminated Toronto’s participation agreement. While it was a formality based on the drama surrounding the last two weeks, including pulling out of Super League’s restart, it’s the next steps that are important to the future of the club and any potential investors.
‘We are re-applying, literally this week, to Super League, once we have a definitive offer on the table,’ Hunter explained. ‘And we’re hoping that could be sometime in the next 48 hours. That re-application process obviously has to involve the due diligence on the new potential owner, so the league will want to see that in great detail. We just don’t know the timing, so we’ve asked Super League to define the process for us, as well as the timetable so we can absolutely meet their criteria, and that actually helps ensure a deal gets done right away.’
When Hunter says ‘potential new owner’ he’s referring to two groups, both of which have since become public. The first is a group based out of the United States, assumed to be led by Ricky Wilby. The second is the Newcastle Thunder. It’s important to note that the CEO only referred to the groups by their geographic designation, although both seem to have very different ideas of what direction they would go with the Wolfpack.
Unfortunately no Canadian bidders stepped up quickly enough.
‘We are still getting interest today (Tuesday), but it has been more from another party in the US,’ Hunter said. ‘Earlier today we had a Canadian company that approached us. We’re 90-percent down the road on the one US investor though, so I would say we’ll continue to evaluate, but time is of the essence to say the least.’
The last line is where Wolfpack fans should sit up and take notice, because that will determine whether the club will continue to fly the Canadian flag.
Hunter was quick and to point that the US group is committed to keeping the team in Canada. As per the report above, Newcastle simply wants the license and whatever else it can pick off the carcass. They’ll likely try to fast-track themselves to Super League and leave the rest as a footnote in Rugby League’s history.
Beyond the positives of keeping the team in Canada, it could be viewed as a win-win for Wilby. Assuming he can settle the debts and catch up to the payments that Argyle fell behind on, he would have an established brand on his hands. If he can guide Toronto to sustained Super League success, he could conceivably flip the Wolfpack, and revisit the New York project.
‘Our obvious passion is that it remains in Toronto,’ Hunter said. “I would say that they’re (the US group) leading the race at the moment, but we haven’t counted the other contingents out until we see the proper documentation and paperwork that we need to say ‘OK let’s talk about signing a deal.’ We’re close on that.”
‘I feel for David,’ Hunter continued. ‘His heart and soul went into this thing along with a lot of money, and unfortunately the final nail in the coffin was Covid. We were quite confident we were going to come through this year, we were going to lose money, for sure, but we had a strong sales and marketing plan in place, Sonny Bill was going to turn the tide on a bunch of new revenues, so we were very bullish on 2020. Covid just took the heart right out of it.’
There are still negotiations surrounding whether or not the Wolfpack will ever receive Central Funding. Hunter believes the other clubs would agree that it’s essential to any club’s long term survival, but it could also become a sticking point with any new owners. Whether they go from zero to 100 next season or it’s gradually phased in, it is likely key to keeping the club in Canada.
Either way, within the next few days we should know whether someone is simply moving in and redecorating a bit, or tearing it all down.