Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Saturday's Coming: Toronto Wolfpack

We want to like Toronto Wolfpack, we really do. But, jeez, they make it hard. Every time we come to research a match preview we end up raking through an absolute bin-fire of bullshit rather than talking about the game ahead. We hoped this time would be different...

Think back to January. Things were very different then. There was an air of optimism ahead of a new Championship season - and Toronto Wolfpack reiterated the promise it had made since the club was formed. In a statement they said:

"Toronto Wolfpack will produce all of the team’s Betfred Championship games in both the UK and Canada in 2019 after announcing a broadcast agreement at today’s Rugby Football League (RFL) season launch..."

"After discussions ongoing since the end of last season involving the RFL and Sky Sports agreement has been reached for all matches to be available for live publication on Sky Sports platforms in the UK. Distribution in Canada and around the world are included as part of the deal and will be confirmed over the next few weeks." (our emphasis)

Even Brian 'Nobby' Noble chipped in:

“We have invested significantly in our broadcast for the last two seasons, culminating in our 2018 postseason games reaching 140 million homes in 19 countries worldwide..."

"Toronto Wolfpack’s growing army of fans in Canada, the UK and across the world will be able to enjoy every minute of action from an exciting new-look 14 team Betfred Championship in 2019. The Pack’s diverse range of sponsors and partners will also benefit from an amplified reach and opportunity to access new markets while opposing teams in the Betfred Championship will gain exposure from a minimum of two televised games against the Wolfpack." (our emphasis)

As always, the promise of 'exposure' was the sweetener for other clubs and the RFL - 'a minimum of two televised games against the Wolfpack' was THE DEAL.

That Was Then: This is Now
Fast forward to this week and the news is that Toronto Wolfpack's 2019 TV production partners Telegenic and In Touch productions have been stood down.

At short notice the Wolfpack announced that last week's game against York - and their upcoming game against Leigh next month - wouldn't be televised, as part of a cost-cutting measure

Having already announced that games against Halifax, Rochdale and Barrow wouldn’t be televised due to clashes with Sky’s coverage of Catalans -  that's more than a third of Championship clubs denied the valuable global TV exposure that Toronto trumpeted as part of their agreement with the RFL and Championship clubs.

Needless to say, the Wolfpack propaganda machine has been desperately trying to spin this as a minor consideration. In a statement this week the club said:

"The Wolfpack have invested a significant amount of money in covering all costs for the production to date in 2019. This decision has been made to reduce costs in the lead up to our much anticipated Betfred Championship playoff campaign."

"With all regular season games outside of Toronto now complete, fans in Canada have been able to watch 15 of the 17 games taking place outside Canada this season live on both Game TV and CBC Sports (online). In all 20 out of 23 games have been available live on Sky Sports in the UK, as well as being delivered into 150 million homes worldwide thanks to the Wolfpack’s valued global broadcast partnerships. This commitment signifies that the Wolfpack are the most viewed team in UK Rugby League this year."

Just not in Rochdale, Halifax, Barrow, York or Leigh.

Diminishing Returns
Toronto Wolfpack's business managers love to talk about the value of their commercial opportunities. Great, so let's talk about this in commercial, economic terms.

'Exposure' was sold to Championship clubs as having tangible value-added: the 'Return' on other clubs'/players' 'investment' in time, cost, hassle, administration and goodwill of accommodating the Toronto circus at home, and in managing the logistics of taking 23 people across the Atlantic. That was THE DEAL. Clubs pay all that in. The value of 'a minimum of two games' exposure was what clubs were promised back in return.

But now, we see an increasing list of clubs being denied a second game's worth of exposure: York, Hornets, Leigh, Halifax and Barrow's promised ROI effectively halved. But if 'exposure' was our compensation for Toronto's involvement -  and that's been removed - what takes its place?

Given the amorphous nature of 'exposure', it's a hard concept to quantify - even media companies have struggled to attribute value to the number of eyeballs on a brand at any given time: but we're going to try.

The Bottom Line
For many years, the media industries have used 'advertising equivalency value' (AEV) as a way of attaching monetary value to media coverage. It's a bit of a blunt instrument as it doesn't take into account the value of other forms of engagement, but as we're talking about TV exposure it's a reasonable enough proxy for us.

It works like this: you count the seconds in broadcast exposure, that your brand receives and multiply that figure by the medium’s advertising rate, generally charged per second. The resulting number is what it would have cost at market rates to place an advertisement of a corresponding duration.

So an 80 minute game of Rugby League, plus ten minutes of pre-game coverage, ten minutes of half-time coverage and ten minutes of post match analysis would yield 120 minutes of coverage for your brand.

According to advertising industry publication The Drum, the average estimated cost of a 30-second slot on Sky Sports during peak time can fall anywhere between £60 to £750. If you take the median of £450 and halve that to take into account the sport and broadcast channel (e.g. Sky Arena), you have a rough estimate of £450/minute's AEV for exposure on Sky. Over 120 minutes, that's a baseline £60,000 worth of TV exposure alone that five clubs won't receive that nine others did.

And if clubs had used national TV exposure to extract monetary value from the opportunity (shirt sponsorships/supporter events), there could realistically be another five or ten thousand on top of that.

Court in the Act
Finally, in a week when we've sought to put a monetary value on TV exposure, news broke that the Wolfpack's former TV broadcast partner has also seen the Wolfpack impact on its bottom line.

It has emerged via The Canadian Press news agency that the Wolfpack have been hit with a writ from TV production company iLink Media Group, who managed the broadcast of games for Toronto in 2018. Filed in their home state of Alberta, iLink's claim is that the Wolfpack "defaulted on payment for a significant portion of last year's season to the tune of just over $300,000." That's about £190,000.

Wolfpack majority owner David Argyle is quoted as saying the he is "... confident the dispute can be resolved."

www.torontowolfpack.com: 'Toronto Wolfpack Confirm 2019 Broadcast Arrangement' - 22 January 2019
The Globe and Mail: 'Toronto Wolfpack cuts broadcast of two regular-season games to reduce costs' - 8 August 2019
The Canadian Press: 'Citing costs, the Toronto Wolfpack cuts broadcast of 2 regular-season games' - 7 August 2019
The Drum: 'How much does it cost to advertise on UK TV? Here's what Channel 4, ITV and more charge for slots' - 22 February 2017