How the Raptors Redefined Fan Engagement Through the 2019 NBA Playoffs

6 minutes read

When the Toronto Raptors took the 2019 NBA Championship to Sport 6 towards the Golden State Warriors, it was an epic second. Not solely was it Toronto’s first NBA title, but it surely was additionally the primary time that the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy got here North of the US border. And whereas that’s history-making by itself; it’s eclipsed by how the crew, the house owners, the media, and a complete nation gained the title for finest fan engagement. This wasn’t by chance—there was a deliberate, full-court press that prolonged effectively past the sector. Let’s dive into how this performed out.

1. The Crew

It’s no secret that raving followers spend greater than informal followers on ticket gross sales, merchandising, and sports-related digital/media subscriptions, to call a number of. Whereas some followers are passionately loyal to a particular crew, others need to see their favourite gamers—or a mix of the 2. 

Raving followers can take time to develop, and their affinity to a particular participant can take a number of seasons. This implies the crew, together with the coach, is vital to constructing and nurturing followers—which might take time to develop with every recreation, press briefing, media interview, and many others.

Primarily based on these rules, these chargeable for the Raptors Fan Expertise group confronted important challenges. From the beginning of the 2018-2019 season, basic supervisor Masai Ujiri made selections that went towards the normal Fan Engagement playbook that normally leverages the fan-favorite gamers and head coach. As an alternative, Urjiri:

Fired head coach Dwane Casey, who led the crew for seven seasons and gained coach of the yr honors the yr he was let go (awkward!).Promoted Casey’s assistant coach Nick Nurse to go coach (Nurse’s first time teaching an NBA crew).In a stunning collection of trades, let go of fan favorites DeMar DeRozan (gasp!), C.J. Miles, and Jonas Valančiūnas.Added the legendary Kawhi Leonard, who allegedly didn’t like Toronto, was injured, prevented press/media, and worst of all—didn’t use social media (for actual).

Enter Drake and Superfan Nav

When the inspiration of your fan expertise program loses its fan-favorite gamers, fires its beloved head coach, and brings on new, media-shy gamers—you want a plan B. Enter Raptors superfan Nav Bhatia, who hasn’t missed a house recreation in 23 years and is something however camera-shy. Followers love him, and he’s served as one of many Raptors’ finest fan-facing representatives, attending media days and performing because the Grasp of Ceremonies on the Raptors’ Championship Parade. 

Then there was Drake. Love, hate, or be detached to him or his music, there’s no contesting that he introduced his A-game and was extremely efficient in garnering extra media protection for his courtside antics. Many viewers admitted to tuning in to the NBA playoff video games to see what Drake was as much as. He was courtside for the Raptors at every house recreation, attended Jurassic Park viewing events in Toronto for away video games, and was additionally a part of the Championship Parade. 

Drake on the Championship Parade. Picture by Corinne Schmid

Price an honorable point out is Toronto metropolis mayor John Tory. He was an lively participant and advocate for the crew, attending video games carrying his now-famous campy Raptors jacket.  

2. The House owners 

In a single day, the Toronto Raptors transcended all nationwide borders and have been embraced as Canada’s crew. The problem was: how do you are taking a regional occasion and expertise, replicate it, and share with followers who’re miles away? 

Maple Leaf Sports activities and Leisure sanctioned regional and neighborhood viewing occasions much like the vastly profitable Jurassic Parks. For Sport 1 towards the Golden State Warriors, they sanctioned 36 regional Jurassic Parks, largely in Ontario. The importance of those Jurassic Parks is that they have been community-based, fan-led initiatives that have been free for followers. By Sport 6, there have been over 60 Jurassic Parks globally. Because the Toronto Star reported, there have been Jurassic Park-style viewing events held all over the world, together with the Dominican Republic, Brazil, China, Italy, Japan, Mexico, and the Philippines.

three. The Media

No shock, US viewership declined, presumably as a result of a Canadian crew was within the finals. Given the state of California has roughly the identical inhabitants as the whole nation of Canada, it’s not shocking that recreation time favored the West coast, as tip-off was as late as 9pm EST. 

44% of the whole Canadian inhabitants tuned-in sooner or later to observe the sport, making it the most-watched NBA recreation in Canadian historical past.  

Whereas this optimizes primetime promoting within the US, it meant that Canadian-based media had lots of pre-game time to fill. They leveraged their digital channels to dwell report, incorporate user-generated content material, and have interaction immediately with followers by way of Q&A classes whereas followers waited. In Toronto, native media retailers just like the CBC supplied ongoing pre-game protection and included fan-based user-generated content material and dwell experiences all through the precise recreation. 

By Sport 6, the Toronto Star reported that the sport was broadcast dwell in 215 nations and territories in 50 totally different languages. There have been 14 worldwide tv and radio networks offering dwell on-site commentary. 

four. The Nation

Canada was ignited by a regional franchise crew and embraced it as their very own. Individuals throughout the nation got here collectively—as a neighborhood—to observe the video games and be a part of this historic journey. As followers gathered in eating places and pubs to observe the Raptors play towards the Golden State Warriors in Toronto, funds agency Moneris reported that spending within the Larger Toronto Space was up 95 % throughout Sport 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday, in contrast with the identical day final yr. Nationally, spending jumped 63 %. Edmonton was up by a staggering 279%. 

The crew embraced its Northern heritage and the slogan and trending hashtag, WetheNorth, took new life because it was prominently displayed in authorities buildings, procuring malls, and enterprise facilities throughout the nation. By Sport 6, WetheNorth merchandise was offered out and the NBAstore.com noticed an 80 % enhance in gross sales, compared with 2016; and double that of 2018. 

One instance of the WetheNorth marketing campaign. Picture by Corinne Schmid.

Then there was the championship parade. Nobody anticipated over two million individuals to flock to downtown Toronto and have a good time and be a part of the rally at Toronto’s metropolis corridor. 

Who Actually Gained?

This story ends with a really glad ending: everybody gained. The Raptors took the title, the house owners amplified the game and crew throughout the Nation and internationally; the media broke all promoting and viewership data, and Canadians all over the place relished within the newfound WetheNorth pleasure. Whereas the entire monetary and financial affect continues to be being tallied, the result of fan engagement throughout the nation resulted within the Raptors usurping the Toronto Leafs and Toronto Blue Jays to develop into probably the most worthwhile franchise within the nation.

None of this might have been accomplished with out the followers and with out engagement ways at every step of the best way. From dwell reporting on-line, to Jurassic Parks all over the world, to showcasing superfans like Nav and having a World Ambassador like celebrity Drake—the street to the 2019 NBA championship set a brand new bar for the fan expertise, during which everyone gained. 

Corinne Schmid

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