If you are a North American sports fan, it is quite possible you have no idea of the importance behind the words promotion and relegation. It is a concept that is common across Europe in many sports leagues, most notably that of football where teams move up or down leagues depending on the past season. We shall get into the details momentarily, but the reason of why it is important now is because finally Toronto, or specifically the Toronto Wolfpack are involved in it as we speak.
This weekend the Toronto Wolfpack start the Super 8s. They are a series of games amongst the top 8 teams of the Kingstone Press League One. Remember, this is Tier 3 of the Rugby League. If Toronto can finish in first place after these next 7 games (first 15 games are carried over) they they will be one of two teams that will get “promoted” (there’s the word) into the Championship League which is Tier 2 of Rugby League. Now a second team is also promoted into the Championship League. That second team is determined by a mini-playoff system. After the Super 8s, teams finishing second, third, fourth and fifth have a one game elimination tournament that will determine that second team.
The bad news of course is what goes up, must come down. Therefore, the two teams that finish at the bottom of the Championship League, will then get relegated (there’s that other word) into Tier 3. By the way, the same movement happens between Tiers 1 and 2. The top two teams from the Championship League and the bottom two from Super League (aka the Top tier) will also switch leagues. It is quite exciting and nerve wracking as a fan and even more so for the owners.
There are pros and cons to any sports system and promotion/relegation is no different. Detractors (usually owners) specify that the uncertainty isn’t good for business or business decisions. Quite simply, a lower tier means less earnings. Less attendance, less television revenue and much, much less sponsorship. If you signed a superstar to a megamillion five year deal, you may no longer be able to afford him. You won’t make as much money and they may want to protect their own brand and not be part of a Tier 2 team.
On the positive side, promotion and relegation league keeps owners honest in not being able to tank and it makes the end of the season quite entertaining as as games between bottom teams are just as important as those top teams. If we had this system in North America it would force those perennial losers like the Philadelphia 76ers, the New York Knicks, and for the longest time, even our own beloved Toronto Maple Leafs into shaping up rather than languishing in the cellar forever.
With a better understanding of how promotion/relegation works and why that system is in place, it also provides a better understanding of the Toronto Wolfpack. You may have wondered how a first year team could be a perfect 15-0. Well it does help that they did start at the bottom of the league in Tier 3. It also doesn’t hurt that the team is made up players who have spent most of their career in Tier 1 and Tier 2. Many people have criticized the team for this advantage, but the criticism is unfair. The Pack have done nothing wrong. They did nothing against the rules.
What they did do however, was sell a vision to these players. When I look at the Toronto Wolfpack, I see players who have made sacrifices. All of them could be playing on Tier 1 or 2 teams right now but have chosen, specifically, to play at the bottom tier. They did it for a variety of reasons including, yes financially. But there is so much more. They chose to be part of Rugby League and Toronto history. They are now successfully growing the game in a new city and a new continent. They are breathing life back into the sport of Rugby League around the world.
With the Super 8s now upon us, don’t miss this opportunity to see history made. The Wolfpack play the next three weeks on the road and then play four straight games at home. There is an excellent chance that during that home stand they will secure promotion. It will be a special occasion that many people have sacrificed for, but even promotion (last time I use the word) is only the first leg of a longer journey. The Toronto Wolfpack know their goal is not only to get to Super League in the next two years, their goal is to win it soon after.
The journey starts now. Be a part of Toronto history.