This article was originally published in OPENWIDE back in 2015, and was written by Robin Rodamski
“In many ways we are in a league of our own. One step removed, Just beyond the boundaries. Some say we’re on the outside looking in. But from our perspective, we are on the outside looking within… …Far from the east side. Miles from the west side. No where near the South Side. We the North” [Taken from commercial]. Over the years, the Toronto Raptors NBA team have been known as the underdogs. Being the only team north of the border, the disadvantages have run their course – long cold snowy winters, less choice on Netflix, lack of ESPN on cable TV, the Maple Leafs, and Justin Bieber. Now, rather than being on the defense, the Raptors rebrand is on the offense, embracing the great white as its stage.
The “We The North” campaign has launched after the Raptors became Atlantic division champions, winning a franchise record of 48 games, and securing a spot in the playoffs. It featured a 60 second clip with intermittent scenes of the diverse culture of the city, the intricate mix of city, and the dynamic urban landscape. The team rebrand also includes new logos and colors as well as adopting Canadian rap star Drake as the team’s global ambassador. Toronto welcomed the rebrand with open arms and to a resounding success. Raptors game admissions have become the top ticket in demand in the NBA. Tim Leiweke, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) CEO, revealed that sponsorship was up 18% as well as an increase in season tickets and TV ratings.
So how does this simple slogan and 60 second clip induce Goosebumps and Canadian pride without even muttering the world Canada? The Raptors hold a unique position in the NBA. The team isn’t just playing for Toronto, it is playing for Canada, the 35 million of us. It gives a unique sense of unity to the country that none of the other 29 teams can lay claim to. Combined with the simple “We the North” and “Northern Uprising”. The mix of the clip and the slogans gives the fans and players a distinct sense of pride; it makes them feel apart of something and makes them excited to be apart of it. “We wanted to change people’s mind about the city – it is traditionally seen as a hockey town but we wanted to show off all the basketball areas like St. James Town, Moss Park Community Centre – all these institutions of basketball where a lot of these great players have come from,” explains Dustin Rideout, VP at the creative firm Sid Lee who helped create the rebrand. He said “the reaction from the fans to the campaign is the same as when we first saw it – it is very emotional and very proud.”
The campaign also takes an unapologetic stance by getting Canadian fans to own our unique position in the NBA rather than feel ashamed and isolated like before. NBA broadcasting rights are given firstly to American television networks as they want to show American games for the obvious reason of drawing higher ratings. If Toronto fans have felt shafted by the lack of international attention, the campaign represents a big middle finger to the American teams and networks that have a larger national audience and top notch ticket sales.
The Raptors teaming up with Drake was also an incredibly smart maneuver. The “Started From The Bottom” singer aligns with the team’s history of being a underdog. Drake is area code 416 himself, representing Toronto through his music and his persona. His songs constantly reference Toronto, and his Instagram (which has 6.6 million followers), has a consistent flow of Toronto and Raptors imagery. But Drake’s allegiance to Toronto is perhaps most blatantly represented through the title of his new album, Views From The 6. By attaching the Raptors brand to someone who is famous worldwide, it gains media attention for the team– bad or good.
Tom Pistore, Vice President of ticket sales at MLSE explains, “We haven’t seen these numbers since the Vince Carter days. These are top five NBA-type results…Having the full building is great for our team. Our players thrive on the full building. Just the atmosphere is exponentially better”. Things are really turning around for the Toronto Raptors. As the new season starts, the team has a great foreground to excel in the season to come.