By Tracey McKenna

At the end of Game 6 of the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals, in a thrilling game between the Toronto Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers, crowds could be heard chanting…

Let’s go Raptors, clap, clap. Clap, Clap, Clap!

Let’s go Raptors, clap, clap. Clap, Clap, Clap!

The clapping continued even after the Raptors lost. Even LeBron James, one of the most respected players in the NBA, was astounded by fan reactions as he tried to answer interview questions. “This is unbelievable. I’ve never been a part of something like this in my 13 year career. This is special. They really appreciate what their team did.

Why are the Raptor’s fans so dedicated? How did they attract a fan base that is so loyal that they would continue cheering even after their team was eliminated from the playoffs?

For a start, fans have grown up with the Raptors. There is a lot of consistency among the players, even though some have only become household names recently. Demar DeRozen has been on the team since 2009, and Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valančiūnas joined in 2012. That still makes for years of fans watching up-and-coming players earn their right to take the lead.

The Raptors have also shown a lot of progress over the years. Before 2013, they had been in the playoffs just 5 out of 18 seasons, and they had only made it to the second round of the playoffs once. Since then, they’ve made the playoffs every single year, and made it to the Eastern Conference finals. The wait of watching the team develop is finally paying off, and fans are along for the journey on the road to success. 

Fans also have a banner with “WeTheNorth”, a 2013 marketing campaign created for the re-launch for the Raptors brand. The “WeTheNorth” slogan capitalized on the fact that the Raptors were the only NBA team remaining in Canada, and united fans across Canada to cheer for a single team. Even those who were not interested in basketball could empathize with the message of Canadian pride embodied in the campaign.

Fans also have a place to cheer when they go to “Jurassic Park” a.k.a. “Maple Leaf Square”. In 2010, the Air Canada Centre (ACC) gave fans a place to come together and build relationships with other fans as they watched games on a 12-meter screen in the park. They also host tailgating parties 2 hours before the game where the mascot and the dance pak interact with fans. The ACC has provided a venue for like-minded people to share their enthusiasm and to partake in the action of the game. It’s all about building relationships.

The Raptors have also been given extra promotion by rapper Drake who was named the team’s “Global Ambassador” in 2013. While some may not appreciate Drake’s presence, the added brand exposure brought about by the rapper wearing Raptors apparel, and referencing Toronto when possible is resulting in increased social media presence.

When talking about fans, it’s hard not to mention the one true Superfan, Nav Bhatia, who can be seen sitting in the front row cheering and encouraging future generations to partake in the sport. He has been to every Raptors home game since 1995, and has gained popularity on the court. He also shared his unique insights with the National about why the sport has gained such popularity, “all the new immigrants that are coming, they can relate to this game little more than hockey…basketball, you don’t need that much… you can buy a $5 basketball, go outside and start shooting”. When you can participate and engage with an activity, your enthusiasm for the sport and your home team increases.

Even though they’re out of the playoffs for this season, you can bet that fans will be lining up in October to cheer and support their favourite team.  You can also bet that other teams will be taking note of how they can design their own equally effective branding and marketing initiatives so that they too can develop superfans.


 

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