“A territory all our own… if that makes us outsiders, we’re in.”
With that, the Toronto Raptors loudly re-introduced themselves to North America, in the way almost every entertainment brand does so in 2014, on YouTube.
With the help of the club’s new global ambassador, renewed optimism from Canada’s largest (greatest) city thanks to the club’s surge to the NBA playoffs, and with new boss Tim Leiweke and new general manager Masai Ujiri driving the bus at full speed, the Raptors have re-branded their image.
#WeTheNorth is the hashtag and the headline. The faces are Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The message is, Toronto is Canada’s team – Toronto is the north’s team – and they’re proud of it.
“This is the statement we want to make to Canada and I think this is the chip we have, which is we’re the north and there’s no one else,” said Leiweke, the president of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, to The Canadian Press. “It’s just us and everyone looks past us. But we’re OK with that now.”
“This is a crusade now… This is not just a rally cry, this is, I think, our identity.”
Toronto-raised rap artist Drake – the team’s new global ambassador – was reportedly heavily involved in the Raps’ rebrand and the We The North series of videos, urging those responsible not to ditch the team name.
(There have been rumours that MLSE was considering changing the name to ‘Huskies’, after fans fell in love with the team’s experimented-with third jerseys a couple of years ago.)
But Drake told Leiweke to embrace the team’s young history, especially the culture that peaked around the 2000 NBA dunk contest.
“He thinks that the Vince Carter generation, those kids that grew up and got inspired by Vince, these are now the (Anthony) Bennetts of the world and the (Andrew) Wiggins of the world,” said Leiweke. “And they relate to the Raptors in a very different way than that Barney dinosaur or Jurassic Park marketing campaign.
“Now this is a cultural thing and Drake said, ‘Stick to it and just define your culture and make it you.'”
With the Brooklyn Nets already disrespecting the Raps – sitting their aged starters in their final game of the season, losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers and dropping to sixth, reportedly on purpose so they could play the less-than-rated Raptors – the fan base has hit a passionate, bitter-built pitch not seen since those Carter days.
Toronto has been trying to turn its NBA team into Canada’s team for a long time, failing to do so (consistently) because they haven’t won a playoff series since 2001.
But with ‘We the North’, they be a little closer to their once-realistic goal.