When rumours started of a newly promoted Super League team offering top dollar for a current All Black, few believed Sonny Bill Williams would sign with the Toronto Wolfpack. But, with confirmation on Friday of his two-year deal, there is ‘big value to having a big name player’ like this.
Those are the intentions of the Toronto Wolfpack rugby league team. Comments from the Wolfpack’s commercial vice president Jon Pallett on New Zealand sport’s talk station RadioSport proves that the acquisition has ‘more value’ than simply to run out onto Lamport Stadium field.
Sonny Bill Williams has penned a two-year deal reportedly worth $10 million. It sees him switch codes again from rugby union to league, a game he has been a champion in – and where the Wolfpack hope to utilize the ‘Sonny Bill factor’ in their aspirations. Both sporting, and in marketing terms.
“There are very few sport stars on the planet that transcend their sport. In our sport, Sonny Bill Williams has been and is that player. We’re not going to get the accountants doing the math on the calculators, but certainly we think there is a commercial value to having a player like this,” Pallett said.
Signing Sonny Bill Williams a huge boost for North American league
A more than successful player, the news is a huge boost for the burgeoning North American rugby league market. Already improved due to the formation, and incredible emergence of the Toronto-based team. A short but dramatic rise through the ranks of English Rugby league divisions; much to the surprise of Canadian rugby league followers.
Attendance numbers, marketing and presence on social media has escalated to the point where a signing of the magnitude of Sonny Bill, is going to bring that to a higher plane.
Pallet explained “there’s certainly a huge value to us in terms of our fan base, and the community work that we do, and obviously the sponsorships and ticket sales that go with it. We know that bringing in a player like this plays a big part in growing our brand in not only Toronto but, globally, and hopefully has a legacy thereafter.”
💯 really looking forward to the challenge. God willing it’s fruitful for all. See you guys soon ❤️✊🏽 https://t.co/lKsmlZIJHg
— Sonny Bill Williams (@SonnyBWilliams) November 7, 2019
Value is a word that in his later years in union, has garnered Williams more admiration than it did in his early years. So while the signing with the English Super League franchise for their 2020 and 2021 campaigns returns the player to the sport he first gained fame with, the person and man is also going to be attractive to sponsors and affiliates.
One factor that will be spoken of widely by media is the ‘cut through’. The recognition factor, public opinion and importantly for the Toronto Wolfpack, awareness. That is on each side of the Atlantic. Cutting a path through the heaving sports market. Against larger sports like Ice Hockey, Football, the NFL or NBA, attracting new fans is the objective.
The Toronto & Sonny Bill effect – a (short) thread.
I work in Dartford. This morning a bloke with only a passing/'generic sports fan' interest in RL whatsoever came over and asked me about SBW, Toronto, where Broncos play now, and after a brief chat he decided he was going…
— Andy Fairhurst (@andyfairhurst83) November 6, 2019
That would bring long term gains too, and show in off-field rewards too. The Sonny Bill effect.
Big value off-field in acquiring SBW in two-year deal
If $5 million per season, or the exact figure – which is likely to never be confirmed officially – has brought in the services of Sonny Bill, then it has also employed the ‘brand SBW’. That is in his notoriety in rugby league [the world over], which is not in question.
This career is full of highlights: Canterbury Bulldogs, Sydney Roosters. Two teams, and two Premierships. Attractive to any interested party, and a key reason for the contract extension from Toronto. A region where the game has the potential for growth, and where SBW can promoted as a positive addition to the franchise.
He might very well be their most expensive contract, yet with the Super League governance, Williams will become Toronto’s marquee player and therefore the vast bulk of his massive deal won’t count towards the salary cap.
And while value may not be returned directly in earnings, in gate sales alone which could never replenish the expenditure of signing a major star. But like in any professional league, the highest gross-earning players are often more well known than the game. Extremely marketable names. Think David Beckham, Tom Brady, and Tiger Woods. Off-field, their brand has name awareness and is co-joined with merchandise sales and sponsorship.
This is where Sonny Bill Williams is one of only a small handful of rugby union, or league players, that will fit comfortably in that position. His maturity, professionalism, ability to offload in the tackle and….that charismatic personality, that radiates confidence.
A groundbreaker back then, and now in returning to the 13-man code (and with the Toronto Wolfpack), he is again going to be a world-renowned figure.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images