In Hockey-Rich Toronto, The NBA’s Raptors Shine Bright During Playoffs

As a lifelong Toronto Raptors fan, I’ve spent most of my life resigned to the fact that the Raptors were destined to be a second fiddle to the Maple Leafs in this city, and that might even be an understatement.

Though the Raptors have historically been a relatively successful team (not on the court, but in ticket sales), the Leafs have had much more success than our little dinosaur team. In 2013, the average price to get into a Leafs game was $120, versus $55 for the Raptors. The wait time for Leafs season tickets have notoriously been known to take over 20 years, an absolutely absurd amount of time for a team that has shown limited success.

But this year, with Canada only having one other playoff team in the Montreal Canadiens, there was enough space for the Raptors to establish themselves as a legitimate sports team in Canada. It was exactly the opportunity for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) president Tim Leiweke to expand the sport into a huge, untapped market.

With the help of marketing company Sid Lee, MLSE embarked on a journey to promote the Raptors playoff run. The “We The North” campaign was created, which has been proven to be enormously successful. The campaigned spawned this commercial:

Truly, I had shivers.

But it was more than just the marketing of the team that aided in its rise in popularity. After another disappointing season for the Leafs, the Raptors were a refreshingly scrappy team who would expend every ounce of effort for every victory. Near the end of the season, even for mediocre games against teams like Milwaukee, fans were acknowledging this effort by packing the Air Canada Center.

This year, Raptors playoff tickets for the first round topped the league at $370.62 on average, with MLSE charging a premium of 242.5%. Raptors games became an event. Raucous crowds at the ACC are shattering eardrums, and the waves of fans outside the arena are large enough to cover a small country. The fan experience and atmosphere has been elite, rivaling some of the great crowds in Oklahoma City and Golden State.

And I would be remiss to leave out the involvement of Drake.

Via @Raptors
Via @Raptors
As a celebrity, international icon, and a generally decent guy, Drake has been all around the NBA environment for the past few years. From being friends with superstar players and helping Terrence Ross with his dunk contest attempt, only to awkwardly sit on a bench meant for three people, Drake has made a name for himself as a fan of the NBA. Named the international ambassador last offseason, Drake has helped the growth of the Raptors brand in many ways. Though the move to hire him as the brand ambassador did seem strange at the time, Drake has become a valuable asset for MLSE, and may become even more valuable when the time comes to woo free agents. Since Drake is not on the Raptors’ payroll, he is not subject to the NBA’s anti-tampering laws.

In a city starved for a successful team, the Raptors have emerged as a real contender for the hearts of sports fans across the city. For the first time in a long time, they’re not a second fiddle to anybody; in fact, they’re very much the star players in the Toronto sports market, and one can only hope that they use this time onstage to enrapture their audience.


Daniel Oh

A lifelong Toronto sports fan, Daniel has endured many miserable times as a fan while watching on television and at games. Currently a student at the University of Toronto, Daniel is also the Director of Marketing for the University of Toronto Sports and Business student organization. Follow Daniel at @ohitsdoh.

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