Toronto Wolfpack want to become the Green Bay Packers of rugby. Help is needed

The Canadian Press

TORONTO — David Argyle has a dream. And he's looking for help to make it happen.

The majority owner of the Toronto Wolfpack reluctantly put his transatlantic rugby league team on the shelf Monday, at least for the 2020 season. The financial challenges of the global pandemic — and the prospect of not being able to play any home games this year — were too much for Argyle and his ownership group.

The cupboard was bare. Denied access to the lucrative TV money that other Super League franchises share, the Wolfpack missed payroll in June.

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Despite a bottom line that has seen the ownership group pour $30 million into the Wolfpack since its inception, Argyle insists he is not done with the four-year-old franchise.

He believes the Wolfpack have established a beachhead in North America with their rise from English rugby's third tier to the elite Super League — as well as drawing worldwide attention by the signing of former All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams.

The goal-line is in sight, in his view. The Wolfpack just need a push. And that's where you come in, according to Argyle.

He is proposing turning the team into rugby's Green Bay Packers.

The NFL franchise has been a publicly owned, non-profit corporation since 1923. Today, after five stock sales, 361,311 people (representing 5,009,518 shares, including some 2,000 from Canada) are owners of the Packers.

The latest offering in 2011, which saw more than 269,000 shares sold at US$250 a pop, helped pay for the $146-million expansion of Lambeau Field.

Owning a piece of the NFL team is a labour of love. Packer shareholders do not receive a dividend on their investment, which doesn't appreciate and isn't traded on any exchange. 

It does buy you access to the annual shareholders' meeting and a vote on new board members.

Argyle wants to eventually raise C$10 million at $100 a shot. The money will go to a non-profit vehicle — not him — to finance and safeguard the rugby team's future.

There is a caveat, however. He wants rugby league authorities — the Super League and Rugby Football League — to give the Wolfpack a vote (they are currently considered only an invitee at the table) and to give the team its share of the money from the Sky TV deal.

Under terms of the Wolfpack's entry agreement, they did not get that so-called central funding. The matter was supposed to be up for discussion this year but the pandemic took care of that.

Argyle says if those two conditions aren't met, he will refund any and all money supporters send in.

The central funding money is worth some 2.3 million pounds ($3.93 million) per team a season.

That essentially covers the salary cap of 2.1 million pounds ($3.58 million) although that number can grow given teams are allowed two marquee players whose salary cap hit is limited to 150,000 pounds ($256,030) per person.

Toronto's marquee men are Williams and Australian-born Samoan international centre Ricky Leutele.

Finding 100,000 people willing to donate $100 seems a tall order. But Argyle is looking around the world for help, citing the 800 million rugby followers around the globe, according to World Rugby.

He sees it as an investment in the sport.

"We are 3 1/2 years in. We have built a platform" said Argyle. "It has generated significant awareness in North America and around the world. And it's too early to call an end to the project.

"Because if rugby is truly going to become a global sport, it has to crack the North American market, which is the most lucrative sports market in the world."

Argyle points to the success of Major League Soccer. The signing of David Beckham put it on the map and the success of Toronto FC helped turn the league into a viable North American entity.

Argyle's hope is that rugby league authorities, who are meeting to decide his franchise's future in the wake of its sudden withdrawal this season, will realize that the North American team is worth keeping.

The Toronto franchise has already turned heads. Williams' signing generated more than 765 million online impressions, according to the Wolfpack.

As for the team's current situation, Argyle has personally guaranteed that his players will get paid. And the Toronto-based Australian is spending his hours working on getting captain Josh McCrone, Williams and four other imports home to Australia or New Zealand.

Argyle, whose day job is as a mining and natural resources entrepreneur specializing in emerging markets, has reached deep into his investments to get the team this far. Friends and family have also pitched in.

But now there are no more assets to sell off to keep the team going. 

Argyle blames himself for the team stalling this season. But he is asking for rugby lovers to take a leap of faith — with a C-note in hand.

"You won't need to ask your financial adviser because this is a gut-and-heart decision, not a head decision," he said. "So as a global community-owned team, an expanded Green Bay Packer model, your membership — reflected through a share — will assist.

"There are 800 million-plus rugby fans in the world. We have endeavoured, tried, made great strides to achieve the goal but there's no more firepower in my corner to get us through this season let alone the following seasons. Which is my failure."

He says he needs help to buy time "to showcase a glorious game."

Asked if he believes rugby fans will buy into his dream, Argyle pauses. "I need to know the answer to that question."


This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2020.


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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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