Toronto Wolfpack fans had quite the day on Tuesday. The excitement of being promoted to Super League reached new highs as the fixtures were released and we got to see who would be Toronto’s first opponents in the big league would be.
The Wolfpack will enter Super League with a visit to the Jungle to take on the Castleford Tigers in Round 1. Fans on Canadian soil will get their first taste of live Super League action Round 11 as the Wolfpack welcome Hull FC to Lamport Stadium. The excitement continued as the rumour mill intensified.
It has been rumoured for quite some time, but on Tuesday many reputable sites began reporting that Sonny Bill Williams had signed with the Wolfpack. The rumoured deal is a record setting sum of $10million NZD over 2 years. The contract would easily make Williams the highest paid rugby player (of either code) in the world.
Wolfpack fans have every reason to be excited about this deal. Williams is the most successful cross code players in history having racked up 2 NRL Premierships, 1 Super Rugby Championship, and 2 Rugby World Cups. He also has the individual honours in both codes. In 2012 he won the Chiefs player of the year award and followed that up with the Sydney Roosters player of the year award and the RLIF Player of the Year award in 2013.
He added the WBA International Heavyweight Champion belt to his resume (just for fun). Most recently, he helped the All Blacks claim a bronze medal at the Rugby World Cup. Williams has an electric style of play. He frequently brings fans to their feet with his famous and unmatched offloading ability.
Williams has enjoyed a storied career thus far and his social media presence has elevated his brand even further. Williams joining the Wolfpack would be a monumental signing, but does it actually make sense?
First off, it is important to note that despite the rumours, neither Williams or the Wolfpack have confirmed that this is happening. Until that happens, this remains a rumour.
A few different values have been tossed around, but the most common one seems to be $10million NZD over 2-years. Using Google’s currency converter, $10million NZD works out to £4.96million. Divide by 2, and Sonny Bill Williams will be earning £2.48million per year. This would without a doubt make him the highest paid rugby player in the world. In rugby league, the current benchmark is set by Manly Sea Eagle Daly Cherry-Evans at £696,150 per year.
In union, the Kobelco Steelers pay Dan Carter £1.1million. Williams’ deal would more than double Carter and more than triple Cherry-Evans. In short, the amount of money Williams would be making is absolutely insane!
As a player, I am a huge fan of Sonny Bill Williams. However, I just cannot get past how ludicrously high this contract is. It becomes even more insane when you put it into perspective of Super League as a whole. Super League has a salary cap. However, the marquee player rule allows each team to pay 2 players whatever they want with only £150,000 counting against the cap. It’s a great rule that allows teams a chance to lure high profile athletes to their clubs.
Ultimately, without diving into the salary cap rules too much, it is perfectly legal for the Wolfpack to do this. However, it means one of their two marquee players (Rickey Leutele or Darcy Lussick) will likely not return next year. Only £150,000 of Williams’ £2.48million annual salary will count against the cap. This is great for the Wolfpack because the Super League salary cap is only £2million!
That’s right! Sonny Bill Williams will be making 124% of the salary cap for the next 2 seasons. No matter what your sport is, hearing that a player will make 124% of the salary cap is absolutely insane! To compare; Cherry-Evans, who will be losing the highest paid rugby league player title, makes 16.5% of the salary cap.
Source: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images
The NRL salary cap currently sits at $9.6milion AUD. If Williams took 124% of the cap in the NRL he would be making $11.9million AUD or £6.4millon per season! This is what I can’t get passed when I think about this potential deal. It’s just how much Sonny Bill Williams would be making in comparison to his teammates, the rest of the Super League players, and all the players around the world.
Just for fun, what if other North American sports leagues decided to introduce a marquee player rule? This is how much a player would make per year if they signed for 124% of the salary cap in the other leagues:
Major League Rugby $620,000
Canadian Football League $6,400,000 (CAD)
National Hockey League $101,600,000
National Basketball Association $135,000,000
National Football League $233,000,000
Just crazy amounts of money!
Realistically, no player is worth 124% of their sport/league’s salary cap. Nor, will there ever be one. However, you really can’t fault Williams for signing that contract. After all, who among us would turn down an offer to make more than 3 times the next highest paid person in their given field? However, the value leads me to wonder how the Wolfpack could actually afford this.
Even though only £150,000 counts against the salary cap, the Wolfpack still have to actually pay Williams that £2.48million. Essentially, this means that the Wolfpack payroll just doubled. This could be problematic as the Wolfpack have already missed payroll a few times. Not necessarily for the players, but the staff of the organization as a whole.
Toward the end of the 2019 season, the Wolfpack stopped broadcasting home games citing the high cost as the reason behind the decision. Those broadcasts resumed for the playoffs so everyone got to see them earn promotion to Super League in front of a record crowd. Of course, there is also the constant questioning of how much of those tickets are actually sold (however, that conversation just feels like beating a dead horse at this point).
Additionally, the Wolfpack are being sued by iLink Media Group (the company that did their tv production) due to the Wolfpack defaulting on payments. This gives the impression that the Wolfpack are already struggling to pay their bills. So how exactly do they afford the Williams’ contract?
Fair play to the Wolfpack though. The rumoured value of this contract has generated plenty of buzz surrounding the team and Super League. Articles about the Williams signing have appeared on numerous Canadian media outlets including TSN, Sportsnet, and CBC. Part of the buzz is the record setting value of the contract.
However, if you are trying to grow the game in a sustainable way, it is an unnerving tactic. Is the buzz that Williams generates actually going to be worth that monumental investment? Only time will tell.