New York and Ottawa over first hurdle in bid to join RFL’s League One

Toronto Wolfpack, seen in action against Leeds Rhinos last year, could be followed on the path towards Super League by teams from New York and Ottawa next year. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com
Toronto Wolfpack, seen in action against Leeds Rhinos last year, could be followed on the path towards Super League by teams from New York and Ottawa next year. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com
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Clubs have given gave their backing in principle for both New York and Ottawa to enter Betfred League 1 in 2020.

The two North American consortia overcame the first hurdle after addressing the Rugby Football League clubs at a meeting in Salford where, in an indicative vote, they received a comfortable majority.

We agreed we would go back to clubs with the answers to some of their questions and we would also give clubs the opportunity to come back again before the RFL board makes its decision.

RFL’s Simon Johnson

A two-man New York delegation comprising founder Ricky Wilby and New Zealander Tony Feasey made an hour-long presentation to Championship and League 1 clubs at the AJ Bell Stadium.

They were followed by Toronto founder Eric Perez, who outlined his ambitious plan to re-locate current League 1 club Hemel to Ottawa, accompanied by former Hemel coach Dean Thomas and a representative of one of 15 owners.

Both consortia say they need an answer by the end of April if they are to enter League 1 in time for the 2020 season.

The final decision rests with the RFL board, who say they will take into account the feedback from clubs at Thursday’s meeting, at which representatives of Warrington, Salford, Catalans Dragons, Hull KR and Leeds attended on behalf of Super League as observers.

RFL non-executive director Simon Johnson, who chaired the meeting, said: “It was a good meeting and, at the end of it, I called for an indicative vote.

“The clubs were in principle supportive by a comfortable majority of the proposals for both Ottawa and New York to join the competitions.

“They asked the RFL board to continue to exercise its discretion and its right under the rules to negotiate with both clubs and to make a decision in due course.

“We agreed we would go back to clubs with the answers to some of their questions and we would also give clubs the opportunity to come back again before the RFL board makes its decision.

“We will carry on consulting but this is an important hurdle.”

Johnson says the next RFL board meeting is not due until May but directors could meet earlier.

“We’ve agreed to do it as quickly as we possibly can,” he said.

Wilby, who says his group are supportive of the Ottawa bid, said: “We’ve got to be confident after today. We are really pleased with how it went.

“I think we’ve been quite open and honest and answered all the questions put to us.”

The New York delegates told the clubs they have secured an agreement with Virgin Atlantic to fly visiting teams and officials premium economy class to New York and agreed commercial deals with Hilton Hotels, Macron and Mastercard.

Feasey, a former business development manager at New Zealand Warriors who will take up the role of football manager of New York, says the consortium has also signed a deal with Pennsylvania-based production company NEP and are in discussions with ESPN-Plus about a broadcast deal.

Feasey says New York have two wealthy investors who wish to remain anonymous until the club get the go-ahead.

New York have agreed to lodge a bond with the RFL but there is no such requirement for Ottawa because they hold Hemel’s membership of the RFL.

Perez, who provided clubs with a 40-page document in advance, has secured the backing of the prestigious Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group and insists that sufficient finance is already in place.

“We have 15 owners and every single one of them is capable of funding this on his own,” Perez said.