The Toronto Wolfpack rugby league team is only three years old, yet it now boasts the highest-paid player in the sport, and an expense bill that would make any sports executive wince.
On Sunday, Feb. 2, Wolfpack plays Castleford Tigers in Leeds, England, in Round 1 of England’s Super League.
Over the past three years, the team has played its way up through England’s rugby league system to gain promotion to the top division.
The team is owned and bankrolled by Australian mining tycoon David Argyle.
This season, Argyle has brought in one of rugby’s biggest names, New Zealander Sonny Bill Williams, on the league’s biggest-ever contract — estimated to be $10 million over two years.
Williams, 34, has had a decorated career in both rugby league and the sister sport of rugby union, winning two Rugby World Cups with the New Zealand All Blacks.
But Argyle’s pockets will need to be even deeper as his team continues to deal with a possibly-unique expense item in world sports; covering the transatlantic travel costs for their opposition.
“We, under the current financial model, absorb the costs of the other teams,” said Chairman and CEO Bob Hunter.
“We have to do the logistics on their behalf, and that even includes immigration and work visas for the players. So it’s a very special and unique scenario that presents its many challenges.”
Hunter is a former executive at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, and says the long-term goal is to challenge the Argos and Toronto FC as Toronto’s fourth biggest sports team.
For logistical reasons, Wolfpack’s squad is based in Manchester, England for most of the year.
The team then decamps to Toronto for blocks of games throughout the spring and summer.