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Toronto Raptors + Drake = Branding Superstardom

Raptors fans live in my house. My two children play Rep ball and they eat, live and breathe all things basketball. I am also a fan of the game and the Raps, especially the experience of attending a live basketball game. It is a unique experience; the crowd, the players, the music, the energy, catching a glimpse of “SuperFan” … it’s a good time.

The other night we watched the Toronto Raptors break the Houston Rockets winning streak. My kids watched with bated breath at every cool move the players seem to pull off effortlessly. However, I was taking greater interest in the massive branding machine at work.

As many of you know Drake is a Raptor's Ambassador – he has his own court side seats and when in town, he gets just as much attention as the players. He sits beside broadcasters Matty, Jack and Leo, and often helps them commentate. He offers up his own perspective on the game – a cool and unique experience for the TV viewer.

Drake’s brand ambassadorship is completely unique to any other professional sports team that I can think of. Sure, the Knicks and the Lakers draw celebrities court side but they are not helping to build the organization, grow fan momentum or influence the design of player uniforms. Friday night was marketed as “Drake night” and also known as a “Welcome Toronto” night.

I checked to see if I could pick up last minutes tickets because it would be a hot game to see live. The only tickets available were in the nose bleeds at a cost of $300 each! Yes, this is certainly related to the draw and excitement around the visiting team (Houston is the current leader in the West,) but this also connected to the special “Drake’s in the house” court design and the cool OVO designed T-shirts for those sitting in the 100 sections. He designed a t-shirt that features all 5 of the professional sports teams in Toronto – Argos, TFC, Blue Jays, Maple Leafs and Raptors. Isn’t that a nice gesture? Sure, but it is creating a bigger, stronger connection between fans, for the love of the game and the cross promotion of other Toronto based teams. I see it as appreciation, celebration and community connectivity of all things SIX (SIX = “Toronto” for you non-ballers, a term coined by Drake.) This helps to create an emotional response; feelings of comradery, pride, city wide “fan ship.” The goal of great branding is to stir emotion, cause your audience to feel something and ultimately convince them to take action. The Raptors have hit the mark on this one.

All of these creative and seemingly natural brand connections are part of a system that generates greater interest in the sport of basketball, The Toronto Raptors, Drake (his music, OVO record label and clothing line, his new restaurant) but in the city of Toronto itself. This is multi-layered. There is an overall cascade effect and this is helping put Toronto on the map as the “city of cool.” The “Welcome Toronto” nights are creating revenue for more than just MLSE. There will an economic impact on the tourism industry as more people will want to travel to Toronto and more people that live in the GTA will head downtown to support these teams and immerse themselves in this unique experience. The NBA loves it, the advertisers love it, the charity recipients love it and the fans love it.

My three closing words; clever, creative and cool.

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