Toronto FC, Raptors, Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, Argonauts and Wolfpack. Hold on, Wolfpack? What’s that?
After a couple of clicks, tweets and scrolls later I was still left with a few questions. Is this actually going to happen, and what is this sport?
In order to understand Toronto’s sporting scene one has to imagine being in an on again/off again relationship. Sometimes you want to spend all your time with your partner. But sometimes your heart is so broken that you need time apart. Imagine having this sort of relationship with all Toronto-based teams.
Toronto in the last couple of decades hasn’t been the most successful city sporting wise. Toronto has teams in three of the four major North American leagues. Of those three franchises the city hasn’t seen a major championship win since 1993. The Toronto Rock (Lacrosse) and the Toronto Argonauts (Canadian Football) have won multiple championships in the 21st century. Although their wins are a little less satisfying due to the smaller stature of their clubs.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto’s favourite team, haven’t won a championship since 1967. The Toronto Raptors have never won a championship and finally the Toronto Blue Jays haven’t won the World Series since 1993. Those droughts weigh heavy on the city’s conscience. Toronto was a city for miserable losers.
In recent times a championship seems within grasp, but it would be very fitting for Toronto to extend its drought. Last year Toronto FC made the MLS Cup final but managed to lose on penalties. The Toronto Blue Jays have looked promising, but their players core is aging, and it looks like the window to win is closing. The Toronto Raptors were two wins away from making the NBA finals and the Maple Leafs have a young core of amazing players. All the promise in the world could still leave Toronto with nothing. Things might be promising for the Toronto scene but its very crowded for the Wolfpack to fit in.
The major issues that the Wolfpack will have to face in order to get accepted into the mainstream is achieve promotion to the Super League in order to be get draw as a “top team”, overcome a busy events schedule in Toronto and identify itself as a “Canada’s team”.
During the Rugby League months it is the Baseball, Gridiron Football and Soccer season in Toronto. The past couple of season the Blue Jays have been filling out their 49,000-seat stadium. This season the Toronto FC look like the favourites to win the MLS Cup, their home 30,000-seat BMO field will also be sold out most of the year. On any given Saturday or Sunday in the summer over 80,000 Torontonians could be at a non-Rugby League sporting event. This doesn’t include the many festivals, concerts and other events that occur in the bustling city. The Wolfpack face a tough uphill battle in order to earn a Toronto sports fans’ weekend time.
This city struggles to support “smaller” franchises. If the Wolfpack don’t climb to the Super League the support might not grow and the new Rugby League side might be forgotten. In Canada we have our own gridiron football league called the Canadian Football League (CFL). Many people in Toronto see it as inferior to the NFL. This has led to the struggle of Toronto’s CFL team the Toronto Argonauts to do well in attendance figures. This is why I think if the Wolfpack make it to the top of the Rugby League pyramid, the city will embrace the club.
There are a couple of positives that the Wolfpack can build off of. Even though Toronto sells its self as a multicultural metropole. There is a strong tinge of blue collar within this city. Toronto sports fans appreciate a hard working athlete. For example look at Tie Domi, he was an ice hockey player that hardly contributed on the score sheet. But his intense work ethic and gutsy performances made him a beloved figure in this city. John McDonald was a shortstop for the Toronto Blue Jays. He won’t be remembered across the Baseball community, but in Toronto he will be remembered for sharing a name with Canada’s first Prime Minister and for daring defensive performances. Perhaps since Toronto hasn’t won a championship in so long Torontonians have learned to appreciate work ethic. Rugby League as a sport requires a roster full of hard-nosed, hard-working athletes. A whole team of John Mcdonald’s and Tie Domi’s can capture the city hearts. As current Wolfpack CEO Eric Perez has stated “This is the most Canadian sport, that had never been to Canada”. He saw the toughness that Torontonians and Canadians love. This could be the hook that makes Rugby League a staple in Toronto.
One caveat that the Wolfpack can take away is that Toronto teams don’t just represent Toronto. They generally represent all of Canada. The Toronto Raptors have a slogan “We The North”, stating that the Raptors represent the entire north i.e. Canada. The Blue Jays have a Maple Leaf on their insignia choosing to represent all of Canada in their logo. If the Wolfpack decide to be “Canada’s team” I’m sure that not only Toronto, but Canada will accept the Rugby League side with open arms.
Daniel Dovgan is a Toronto-based sports journalist.