Toronto Wolfpack co-founder Eric Perez unveiled details of his new franchise in Ottawa on March 9, 2020. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

New Canadian rugby league franchise to be known as the Ottawa Aces

Ottawa has a new team wearing red and black — rugby league’s Ottawa Aces.

Toronto Wolfpack co-founder Eric Perez unveiled details of his new franchise Monday in Ottawa. The Aces are slated to begin play in 2021 — out of TD Place Stadium — in England’s third-tier Betfred League 1.

“It’s Commonwealth Day so why not start a rugby team in Ottawa that plays in England,” Perez quipped at a news conference. “Seems like a good idea.”

That’s the same level the Wolfpack entered at in 2017. Three seasons later they had won promotion to the top-tier Super League.

“Our goal is to, one day, do what they did and make it to Super League,” Perez said. “We’ll do that with patience and hopefully with some homegrown talent as well. We’ll try and get that in as soon as possible.”

Perez’s consortium has partnered with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), which owns and operates the CFL Redblacks and OHL 67’s as well as managing the stadium/arena complex.

The club will wear red and black, like the CFL Redblacks. The 67’s wear red, black and white.

Perez and his ownership group bought the license to England’s Hemel Stags in September 2018, with a view to moving the franchise to Canada. He then negotiated a deal with the Rugby Football League, the sport’s governing body. to finalize the move.

“Today is about a new beginning and a new era for the club,” he said.

The Stags remain an amateur club, playing in England’s Southern Conference League.

Perez has assembled a 26-person ownership group in Ottawa. He calls it a “more of a communal thing” than Toronto, where David Argyle — an Australian-born Toronto-based entrepreneur — is the majority owner and clear signal-caller.

The Aces will start training camp in early December, likely in England. The season will start the end of February or early March. Because of the Canadian winter, the first home game will be the last week of March or first in April.

“In rugby league’s 125th year, as we celebrate the rich heritage of this sport, the introduction of Ottawa Aces to the competition allows us to look to a colourful, expansive and global future,” said Rugby Football League chairman Simon Johnson. ”They will bring a new and passionate audience to our great game.

“The wonderful facilities here in Ottawa will bring an exciting new element to the Betfred League 1 next season.”

The 28-team RFL now has two franchises in Canada and two in France — in addition to 24 in England and Wales.

New York will likely be the next North American franchise. The RFL confirms Monday that talks on New York “are progressing and that negotiations are advanced for New York to enter the Rugby League Challenge Cup next year.”

The group behind the New York bid is slated to hold a news conference in Liverpool on Tuesday.

Like Toronto, Ottawa will pay for visiting teams to get to North America.

Perez said he expects to announce a coach in five to six weeks, with player signings to start in June.

“There are a lot of players who are, on the back of Wolfpack, really really looking forward to trying to get on this roster as well. Because it’s an amazing opportunity for a player to come over here and play.”

Perez said the club will not spend all of the 1.8-million-pound ($3.2 million) salary cap. The team has started accepting $50 ticket deposits.

The club plans to form an academy to help develop Canadian talent. “There’s already a great base of athletes here,” said Perez.

Perez was the face of the Wolfpack in the first year but stepped back as Argyle took a more public role. While Perez expects to leave the Wolfpack’s board of directors, he retains a small ownership stake. He also plans to end a temporary front office role with struggling Bradford.

A graduate of York University, where the Toronto native earned a degree in business and society, he worked in university advertising with a few friends. That took him to England, where he looked to start up a similar venture.

He was taken by the lesser-known 13-man rugby code when he watched a Super League game on TV in 2010. Upon returning to Canada, he formed the Canada Rugby League Association.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2020.

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