Dear UK NFL fans (who don’t already have a rugby league team to support),
Support Toronto Wolfpack.
Because Toronto are trying to do what any NFL franchise based in the UK would have to do.
Now admittedly there are differences between the two: size of squad, overheads and relegation into and out of various leagues for a start…but you can bet your bottom dollar the NFL are keeping an eye on what happens to the Wolfpack, and they will include it in their calculations about whether a UK-based franchise would succeed.
The hurdles Toronto are having to overcome would also be a problem for a UK franchise:
- The distance (although, as several commentators have pointed out, the flight time between several US NFL teams is just as long as the US/UK flight time)
- Getting homegrown players into the team. Toronto have done something sensible and clever, they’ve run trials in Canadian and US cities to find people who haven’t quite made the grade in the NFL or CFL (Canadian Football League) but who could transfer their skills to rugby league. The homegrown player thing is obviously less of a thing in the NFL because of the whole draft thing (and the franchise thing), but I think it would help embed the putative UK team better in the UK.
- Transport, although that’s not a problem for an NFL team as the NFL pay transport costs. But because the RFL don’t, Toronto have done another clever thing. They have signed a sponsorship deal with an airline, Air Transat. The airline are covering the cost of Toronto’s flights and, and here’s the clever bit, the flight costs of the UK teams that are playing Toronto. Toronto are also being nice and covering some of the travel costs for the UK fans coming over. Presumably to keep costs low, the matches are being played in sets of 5, so Toronto have 5 games over here, and then five home games back in Toronto. The putative NFL team won’t need to do that.
- Competition from other sports teams. Toronto is a good proxy for London (and the UK in general) because it already has a lot of sports teams. The Maple Leafs, the Blue Jays, the Raptors, the Argonauts and Toronto FC are just some of the teams that the Wolfpack will need to compete against to gain fans and an audience share.
If Toronto show that a transatlantic franchise could succeed, they might well be a stepping stone to getting the London Jaguars.
So get cheering for them, UK NFL fans.