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Volume 7 No. 149
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Hangin' With ... Toronto Wolfpack Co-Owner David Argyle

Argyle said that the team is hoping to add broadcast partners in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.
Photo: Mathew Tsang/RiverSpiral Photography

DAVID ARGYLE is the co-owner of Championship Rugby club Toronto Wolfpack. The Canadian team made its debut in the Rugby Football League's third tier, League 1, in '17. After winning the League 1 championship in year one to secure promotion to the second-tier Championship for '18, the Wolfpack's second Championship season will begin on Feb. 3. Argyle spoke to SBD Global about the RFL embracing a North American franchise, what the club seeks from potential sponsors and some of the logistical hurdles the team has faced so far.

On the RFL embracing its first North American team ...
David Argyle: For an expansion team, [all 40 RFL teams] had to vote on it, and the vote was unanimous to do the Toronto expansion. The progressives, the expansionists in the game, saw this as a way to expose rugby to North America. Toronto is the fourth-biggest city in North America. So they could see how the macro would be great and that we could get a position in a major North American city in the sports landscape. I think Toronto was the best choice for that. From our side, as well as the clubs' side and the RFL's perspective, I don't think anyone really looked at the logistics issues. And that might sound unprepared, but no one quite knew exactly how well it would go or what the challenges were, other than just the broad macros. Really it was, how we do grow the sport of rugby in North America? People bought into that macro concept and it has worked, it's worked greater than anyone's expectations in raising the profile of rugby in North America.

On the logistical issues of running a trans-Atlantic club ...
Argyle: We had a plan, and then we started to execute the plan and we realized our plan needed to be significantly modified, because there are challenges that you just don't anticipate. But where we are today, we now know how to run a trans-Atlantic team in a league that plays on the other side of the Atlantic. We've learned all the key lessons from how to secure visas for players -- not just our players but also the visas for the visiting team's players -- and just the logistics on the best way to get teams onto planes and get them recuperated once they arrive so they're ready for their games and training. ... We really had to learn all that, and now we've got a system down that we feel is suitable, which is great. But it does take a season or two to figure all that out.

On the team's int'l visibility ...
Argyle: We're on three broadcast channels in Canada. We have a broadcast partner in the United States and we're on throughout Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Our games now can be watched in 115 million homes. I'm not saying 115 million homes watch our games, but that's a significant platform. Next year, we hope to sign a broadcast deal in Latin America, two broadcast deals in Africa and one in the Middle East. And then we have a strategy to go across the firewall into China. The relevance of that is, if you're a [MLB] Toronto Blue Jays fan but you live in Atlanta, the only time you can watch the Jays play is when the Braves are in Toronto or the Jays are in Atlanta. You can't turn the TV on and get that without buying a special package. What we have is a way to grow the game globally. We're not shy in saying that we want to be a global rugby brand built around a club.

On identifying potential sponsors ...
Argyle: We're in discussions with some much larger Canadian brands and some international brands. As long as we've got the core values of the companies aligned, it’s very easy to explain to people the value proposition for this. The key is getting the core values aligned. We have been approached by international brands where it doesn't work for us because it doesn’t help put more [rugby] balls in kids' hands and it doesn't create Toronto as a center of rugby excellence. For a startup, we actually turn down brands that will look attractive for us from a financial perspective, but will take away from our authenticity to the game. As an example, fast food, I’m not sure it works for us. We have turned down sponsorships from fast food organizations because I'm not convinced that helps put more balls in kids' hands. 

On the Wolfpack's partnership with Maple Leaf Diamonds ... 
Argyle: One of our major sponsors, Maple Leaf Diamonds, is a great family-owned business in Canada. They take ethical golden jewelry and they fashion it into a finished product. They opened up in a kiosk space across the north of England. In a space of two years, it has gone from one kiosk to 124 stores. ... The response has been fantastic in that [rugby fans] see it on our jersey and then they're in a jewelry store in their towns or small cities and they immediately sort of draw that into, "That's rugby." Here you see the direct relationship. Then on the marketing side, we can actually be very specific and help them cross-promote into those rugby clubs in those jurisdictions. 

On the club's impact on youth rugby in Toronto ...
Argyle: We're teamed up with Rugby Ontario. This year, about 100,000 kids have had a rugby ball in their hands. That's a lot. Our goal with our sponsors is to drive that number to about 200,000 kids a year over the next two years. The kids are able to see, up close, a professional outcome, and to meet the players. Our players meet and greet and walk around the stadium after every match, as do the visiting players.

Hangin' With runs every Friday in SBD Global.