The Sonny Bill effect – what Toronto’s big-name signing will bring to Super League

With four days having now passed since the announcement, I think everyone has just about come to terms with it all – Sonny Bill Williams is coming to Super League.

The confirmation of his arrival sent shockwaves across the whole sporting world – from the UK to Australia and New Zealand, and across all codes of rugby.

It’s a signing that arguably could change the entire complexion of Super League itself.

Venture to unexplored territories

Nobody needs to be told how much of a household name Sonny Bill is, and with that comes publicity and endless opportunities to expand the game.

Such is SBW’s global popularity, that his fanbase stretches to areas of the globe where rugby league is little more than an old wives’ tale. Dubai, India and, most importantly, Canada are just a handful of countries where Williams is a cult figure, not least because of his positive lifestyle, culture and morals.

The chance to engage fans in our sport from those sorts of areas is an exciting prospect and could lead to significant growth in worldwide support and participation.

Avid fans of the NRL and rugby union may also have their eyes on British rugby league for the first time come February, when he makes his debut against Castleford at Headingley. SBW has always been a hot subject of media coverage in the 15-aside game down under and, despite his code and country switch, that is unlikely to change.

Spikes in attendance

The former Canterbury and Sydney star’s mega-deal will see him earn £51,000 per week. Just to put it into perspective, that’s a fiver every minute. Despite his hefty wage packet though, what he’ll pump back into the sport is much more important.

As I’ve mentioned, SBW’s profile means he’ll pull in new audiences and with that will come significant financial investment, both for Toronto and other Super League clubs.

Super League gate figures are likely to rise in 2020, certainly for Wolfpack matches anyway. I mean, it’s not everyday a global superstar turns up in Wakefield or Wigan.

The celebrity-driven culture we now live in means people will turn out not so much to watch the sport itself, but rather to simply be in the presence of a famous face. But you never know, those turning up in the hope of adding a new big-name autograph to their collection could, perhaps, be captivated by rugby league.

He is to rugby like what Leonardo DiCaprio or Johnny Depp are to the cast of a film – they’ll instantly give you a boost at the box office.

Netflix and thrill?

On the subject of films, there was a quote from Toronto owner David Argyle that went somewhat under the radar during the media storm surrounding Williams’ signing.

“We are currently in discussions about making his first year – and the Wolfpack’s – in Super League into a documentary series,” he told Fox Sports.

Argyle himself has never been short of ambition, and behind-the-scenes sports docuseries are one of the most popular genres in the film and TV industry right now, with Amazon Prime’s All or Nothing and Netflix’s Last Chance U being perfect examples. It’s almost a match made in heaven.

The success of Leeds Rhinos’ As Good As It Gets documentary shows there’s scope for more filmmaking within rugby league, while Newcastle Thunder are set to have their own series premiered on the Our League app over the next couple of months.

The publicity Toronto and SBW have already generated, though, means they appeal to a wider audience and are therefore in a position to push an idea like that to big-name streaming platforms and filmmakers.

Again, it would generate excellent interest in Super League and let’s be honest, it would give us all something to watch during the off-season!

Quality in bucketloads

If you’re still not sold on Sonny Bill, then rest assured knowing that, if nothing else, you are guaranteed plenty of quality and entertainment on the field throughout 2020 and 2021.

SBW is renowned for his tough, aggressive style with flourishes of skill and technical ability. That same style is what has made him such a star in both codes and while he may be past his best, true class never completely disappears.

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