By Brian Lowe
The Rugby Football League (RFL) has given the thumbs up for a new Ottawa-based franchise to enter League One in the UK in 2020 but has again put off entry by a New York franchise until at least 2021.
According to a statement by the RFL, the application for Hemel Stags to be relocated to the Canadian capital, Ottawa, has been accepted in principle, while the RFL and the New York consortium have agreed that entry into League One in 2020 is not achievable because it would put the club under undue pressure, so the club should work towards entry into League One in 2021.
This is now the second time the New York bid has been put on hold, and as such, one could be forgiven for thinking the RFL might not be that keen on the idea of basing a new franchise in the big apple.
After all, the major difference between the two franchise bids is that the Ottawa version involves relocating a failing English lower division club to Canada, whereas the New York submission is all about starting up a brand new team, so what’s the problem?
While the Ottawa bid is not a done deal, it would seem that the RFL is more comfortable with the idea of relocation rather than a start-up.
Maybe it thinks moving an existing club from one place to another is easier than starting a new team from scratch, and maybe it is.
Another factor in the equation is that the RFL is already familiar with Ottawa’s main protagonist Eric Perez as he was the original driving force behind the Toronto Wolfpack, which got the go ahead from the governing body in 2016 to establish the Canadian team.
That said, it wouldn’t be unfamiliar with New York’s main spokesperson Ricky Wilby as he was with the Catalans Dragons before aligning himself with the NYC consortium.
So, what is it?
It could be that on the one hand the powers that be in England prefer the known to the unknown. In other words, they have already seen that Perez has the ability to get a team up and running in Canada, a much smaller market than New York City, and on the other, they have no way of knowing whether an NYC team is even doable.
Canada appears to be a safer bet than the US in terms of successfully expanding across the Atantic and it’s quite possible that that fact might be in the back of the minds of the RFL board.