Toronto vs Featherstone Million Pound Game journal: Day four
By Stephen Owen
Last Updated: 06/10/19 11:31pm
Stephen Owen reports on the Wolfpack gameday experience as Toronto entertained Featherstone with a place in Super League at stake.
Saturday, October 5
Game day arrived in Toronto and a perfect example of how much of an impact the Wolfpack have had in this city of over three million people is a preview to the game was the lead sports story in one of the local newspapers. That kind of publicity cannot be underestimated and it symbolises the progress the club have made in the fourth biggest city in North America.
The Wolfpack gameday experience is truly unique. Some fans embarked on a march through the streets of Toronto to Lamport Stadium, with flags waving and songs being sung. The way the club interact with the crowd on a matchday is admirable, this is a slick operation and every match feels like a big event.
From the side of the field, a team of people start chants for the fans to join in with or play music to keep the party going and help build support for the players on the pitch. It was a privilege to be at this historic match on the day the Wolfpack posted their first ever sold-out crowd. Something tells me it won't be the last.
The fanbase of the Wolfpack is cosmopolitan and almost every person is wearing Wolfpack memorabilia of which is extremely varied. There are important lessons to be learned here of how to market a brand and create a gameday experience that fans dare not miss out on. I don't understand the dislike that a small amount of people in the UK seem to have towards the Toronto experiment. I cannot urge people enough to visit a Wolfpack match and I'm certain they will be won over.
The game itself was a compelling contest and the Featherstone players and fans played their part in a wonderful exhibition of rugby league. Interestingly, the Toronto mayor John Tory said after the game that the government would look to resolve some issues with the stadium. Ostensibly this is the only slight drawback I can see that the club has. It's not the most comfortable seating for the fans, and they need to find a way to be able to play home games in February and March of which is impossible at the minute due to the heavy snow at that time of year and the lack of a roof or underground heating.
If they can resolve this, imagine a Friday night double-header to start the season with a match in the UK followed by a Toronto home game. Wall-to-wall rugby league - and this is how the North American sports market tends to operate with an East Coast game followed by a West Coast match.
Following the rugby is the after-game party to the left of the posts as you look at it from the TV gantry. There is a plethora of merchandise, food and drinks being sold and it feels like the busiest nightclub in Toronto! There is a DJ playing a mix of classic party songs - as well as recent hits to keep the youthful crowd happy. That went on for a couple of hours post-game before the majority make their way into the other bars that inhabit Liberty Village. The local pubs around the ground are filled with Wolfpack supporters and as we found out to our detriment, make sure you reserve a table if you want food as it's standing room only - even hours after the game has finished!
Late into the night the party continues and I'm not sure if it was the alcohol or a genuine belief but Wolfpack owner David Argyle professed to the public that Toronto would do the league and cup double next season!
The Wolfpack do seem to have a side that is ready-made for Super League, but I'm led to believe they have their eyes on some major signings as well. The club feel that to attract even more fans to the Wolfpack you need major "franchise" names. An example they use is the growth that soccer had in America when David Beckham signed for the MLS. I can't give you any definitive names, but I would imagine someone like Sonny-Bill Williams can expect a call from a Toronto area code in the not too distant future.
It's been a fantastic few days in Toronto and I hope this journal has given you an insight into the rugby league environment over here. As the Wolfpack prepare for Super League, Brian McDermott has declared this a game-changer for the sport. It's hard to disagree with him - and quite literally a world of opportunities await rugby league.