TORONTO — Two new potential buyers are kicking the tires of the cash-strapped Toronto Wolfpack, bringing the number of interested parties to four.
All face a deadline in acquiring the transatlantic rugby league team with Super League chief executive Robert Elstone saying any new investor will be required to submit a formal application to re-join the 2021 Super League by the end of August.
Citing the challenges of the global pandemic, Toronto announced July 20 that it could not afford to play out the remainder of the Super League season. Majority owner David Argyle, who says his ownership group has poured $30 million into the franchise and has no more to spare, subsequently announced he was stepping away from the team.
The club has been on the hunt for new ownership ever since.
Super League responded to the news of the Wolfpack standing down by tearing up its participation agreement, forcing the team to submit a new business plan/proposal to be readmitted.
Two sources, not authorized to speak on the record, pegged two of the potential buyers as Newcastle Rugby Ltd, owners of the Newcastle Falcon rugby union and Newcastle Thunder rugby league clubs, and the group behind a bid to bring rugby league to New York.
Bob Hunter, the Wolfpack's chairman and CEO, said one of the new groups is from the United Kingdom while the other is from Canada. The local offer is not from Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, said Hunter, a former MLSE executive.
"We've not approached them and they've not approached us," he said.
Having signed a non-disclosure agreement, the two new groups are going over the franchise's financials. They were told the team needed a "very quick turnaround," said Hunter
The other two potential buyers have been looking over the figures for the last 10-14 days.
"We don't have a formal offer as of yet ...We're letting the horse race be expanded," Hunter added.
He expects to narrow the field of potential buyers down to one within a week to 10 days.
All four groups are only interested in the Wolfpack as a Super League team, Hunter said.
Hunter has been joined in the negotiations by head coach Brian McDermott and U.K. GM Martin Vickers.
Help is needed if the franchise is to survive. The Wolfpack have missed the July 1 and Aug. 1 payrolls with star centre Ricky Leutele among several international players receiving eviction notices on the housing in England provided by the club.
Leutele, an Australian-born Samoan international, has since signed a short-term contract with the NRL's Melbourne Storm. Former All Black Sonny Bill Williams is currently in quarantine with his family in Sydney and is expected to join the Sydney Roosters for the duration of the season when he emerges.
Vickers said in a statement the club continues to work with Argyle and the RFL "to ensure that the club can meet its payroll obligations to players and staff, as David has publicly stated."
The Wolfpack debuted in 2017 in League 1, the third tier of English rugby league. They won promotion to the second-tier Championship in their first season and climbed into the Super League with a win over Featherstone Rovers last October in the so-called Million Pound Game.
Toronto was 0-6-0 when the Super League suspended its season in March. Down to 11 teams with the withdrawal of the Wolfpack, the Super League resumed play last Sunday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 7, 2020.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press