If You Build It

The saying goes that if you build it they will come. On Saturday the Toronto Wolfpack proved many wrong by drawing over 6,000 fans to Lamport Stadium for a third tier British rugby league match. In the process the ambitious team proved many wrong and gave an example to all of what good market can do for a team.

For a few years now the Toronto sports media has complained that the pressures on what they the sporting dollar (the money fans have to buy tickets) is too high. It is true there is a lot of competition for each dollar a person spends on sports tickets in Toronto. Toronto is home to NHL ice hockey (Maple Leafs), NBA basket ball (Raptors), MLS (Toronto FC), MLB baseball (Blue Jays), CFL Football (Argonauts) and that is just in mainstream. Of those teams the Maple Leafs, Raptors and Blue Jays have all had post season runs. On top of that in the past 12 months Toronto has hosted the World Cup of Hockey, World Junior (hockey) Championships, a Maple Leafs outdoor game and the CFL finale the Grey Cup. All of which have suffered poor or slow ticket sales.

That same media also pointed to the struggles across Canada as a reason for poor or slow sales and the fact the Ottawa Senators failed to sell 2,000 tickets to their second round playoff home opener was seen as another justification for this reasoning.

But here are the Toronto Wolfpack, the newest sports team in Toronto bucking that trend and it has not been easy. The Wolfpack have not benefitted from playing in the top competition, there have not been high profile games played in Toronto in the build up, their opponents (Oxford Blues) were not a high profile team in the sport, their were not well known (to Canadians) sports stars on show. The Wolfpack have done it through hard marketing work to sell the sport as well as the team to the people of Toronto. It is also worth noting that Saturday’s game was played in grey Toronto weather and with the city in the midst of mass of sports. The Maple Leafs having just exited the NHL playoffs having reached the end of season for the first time in forever, the Raptors in their playoffs and the Blue Jays and Toronto FC seasons having just started.

It is an example to all the mainstream sports and media that you can not take fans for granted. Everyone from the NHL to NIHL can take something from the Wolfpack and that is that if you stop selling the game the fans will stop coming. Ok so the Wolfpack have a huge marketing budget for their sport and one that many if not all UK hockey sides would be envious off but the Wolfpack have also used ‘free tools’ like twitter to talk directly to fans.

The Wolfpack success can not be ignored and is a lesson for all sports big and small.

Neil Tucker

Neil has written on ice hockey for many websites concentrating on British ice hockey mostly. Neil also covers ice hockey in other countries and organises his Blueliner Hockey Tour. A graduate of the Manchester Metropolitan University Neil turned his hand to hockey writing in 2009. As well as contributing on Blueliner Hockey Neil has contributed to Get Real Hockey and Slapshot Magasine.

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