Ottawa gets green light for English rugby league franchise – CBC.ca

Ottawa gets green light for English rugby league franchise - CBC.ca
Governing body of English rugby league approves franchise move to Ottawa
A rugby league enthusiast, the Toronto native first hatched the idea of bringing the sport to Canada on a fish-and-chips wrapper. That turned into the Toronto Wolfpack becoming the first transatlantic rugby league team in 2017.

Now a "super-excited" Perez has got the green light to put a franchise in Ottawa. And he has a wealth of experience from the building Wolfpack from scratch to get the ball rolling again.

"I think I'm more excited this time because I know what it takes and I know what we already have locked in, so I know that we're in a great position," he said Monday from England.

Perez heads a Canadian consortium that acquired England's Hemel Stags team in the hope of moving it to Ottawa. On Monday, the governing body of English rugby league approved the Stags relocation.

"The application for Hemel Stags to be relocated to Ottawa has been accepted in principle — although both the RFL and the consortia have agreed that some further work is required before it can be confirmed that the Stags will be ready to start the 2020 season in Ottawa," the Rugby Football League said in a statement.

The Ottawa team would start in the third-tier Betfred League One, as the Wolfpack did when they started in 2017.

The team would play at TD Place Stadium. Perez says he has already started interviewing coaching candidates.

"With regard to the New York bid, the RFL and the consortium have agreed that entry into League One in time for 2020 is not achievable without placing the club under undue pressure, because it is a startup operation without the benefit of existing operations already being in place, and due to some change in the ownership structure during the process," the RFL said.

Perez says he expects rugby league to spread to more Canadian cities, saying he has already been contacted by groups in Montreal and Vancouver.

The Wolfpack won promotion to the second-tier Championship in 2017, narrowly missing out on graduating to the elite Super League last year. Toronto currently tops the Championship table at 13-1-0.

Perez's ownership group is working with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), which owns the CFL Redblacks, OHL 67's and USL Championship's Ottawa Fury FC (USL). OSEG also manages TD Place stadium and arena.

"Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group's infrastructure means so much that we had to worry about before is taken care off," Perez said.

As founder and CEO, Perez was the face of the Wolfpack when its blueprint was announced in 2016. But he stepped away from the team to work on further expanding the game.

Perez said he will step down from the Wolfpack's board of directors while maintain a minority ownership role.

David Argyle, a Toronto-based Australian entrepreneur who heads up the Wolfpack ownership group, has taken a more prominent public role.

In addition to Toronto, the RFL currently has two French clubs in the Catalan Dragons (in the Super League) and Toulouse Olympique (in the Championship).

Perez says his hope is to introduce more Canadian talent via the Ottawa team, as well as start a rivalry with Toronto — perhaps in the former of some kind of Canadian cup competition so they can meet even when in separate divisions.

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Ottawa have had their application to take on Hemel Stags licence in League One accepted in principle, and could be included in the 2020 competition.

The Rugby Football League has advised that further work is required to ensure the club is ready to begin next season in the Canadian city.

New York have been advised to target a 2021 League One start, in order to put the necessary infrastructure in place.

Eric Perez, who founded the initial setup of Toronto and remains a director despite taking a back seat, is part of the Ottawa group.

“The application for Hemel Stags to be relocated to Ottawa has been accepted in principle – although both the RFL and the consortia have agreed that some further work is required before it can be confirmed that the Stags will be ready to start the 2020 season in Ottawa,” the RFL statement said.

“With regard to the New York bid, the RFL and the consortium have agreed that entry into League One in time for 2020 is not achievable without placing the club under undue pressure, because it is a start-up operation without the benefit of existing operations already being in place, and due to some change in the ownership structure during the process.

Torontos success as a start-up operation has helped create confidence in the potential of other rugby league franchises such as New York and Ottawa within the existing clubs.

The Wolfpack won promotion to the Championship in their inaugural season, and came within 80 minutes of a Super League place but lost to London Broncos in the 2018 Million Pound Game.

Owner David Argyle believes the addition of new clubs from the region can only help the growth of the sport in its new territories.

“For us, were supportive of what theyre trying to do, once again to grow the game of rugby league.”

Rugby leagues horizons are on course to broaden again with the decision to approve moving Hemel Stags to Ottawa “in principle” in time for 2020.

Toronto have proven that with the right marketing and smart fan offerings, it is possible to draw a fan base to a new market with a new sport.

Ottawa has arguably a less-crowded sporting landscape, and will have a similar curiosity level, while the influence of Perez – a founder of the Toronto club – will prove invaluable.

However, one factor that is expected to differ is that Ottawa are keen to grow as a club in a more organic fashion. That means more emphasis in developing players from the local area as opposed to the creation of a team from imports.

It might mean a slower build, not quite so explosive in terms of initial success, but arguably a more sustainable model of developing the sport.