The Raptors are working hard on their brand identity through Drake, the All-Star game, bringing purple back, and all that jazz.  The #WeTheNorth differentiator worked for the playoffs, but then again the playoff atmosphere of any Toronto sports team has never been a problem. It’s very easy to drum up support and enthusiasm when an often crappy team makes the post-season, and that’s even more so the case in a success-starved city like Toronto.  You could have had the Better Marriage Blanket infomercials playing before and after the game on TV and the ACC, and we’d still have the support we enjoyed.  Getting people excited about the playoffs requires very little creativity from the MLSE marketing and promotions staff because it just happens, pretty much, automatically.  It’s what you do in the regular season that matters.

Going along with being different and hailing from the “north” (even though Minneapolis is north of Toronto), the Raptors have the chance to truly make their home support something different and unique.  So far the arena production consists mostly of distracting people from watching the game on every possible occasion.  The regular season basketball experience is hardly immersive, and unless it’s a tight game late, or one of those rare games that holds tension, it’s frankly quite blah.  Keep in mind that I’m speaking from a hardcore basketball fan perspective, not from a family of four going out to the Raptors game because the Dad’s boss gave away his tickets on account of his wife leaving town and his mistress becoming available.

At the very least, there needs to be a Raptors supporters group, much like TFC has, which is very similar to most soccer clubs.  These are often run in association with the club, usually at an arms-length.  The Raptors could benefit from such an organized initiative on a few fronts – improved home support, fan engagement, player perception, NBA differentiation, and more.  The closest thing that’s ever happened to this are shitty gimmicks like the 416-zone where boisterous fans are stashed away where they’re least heard from. The old Sprite Zone section was a good idea, but in never graduated to a lower-bowl version, likely due to financial reasons.

Most NBA teams have atmosphere issues which they simply accept because stirring the financial pot rarely makes sense.  To suggest the Raptors allocating somewhat-prime real estate in the arena to a supporters group, who receive the tickets at a reduced price and guarantee that, say, 95% of seats never go empty, would be unheard of.  An organized group owning and making that space their own would result in an emotive atmosphere backed by clever chants, loud noise, and a permanent mini-spectacle.  This would be great for the club and if organized well, a differentiator much stronger than a hashtag.  Of course, these are just random thoughts, a half-baked idea, but I feel that there’s something in it.

I was in Italy last year and I happened to attend a Serie A match in Rome where AS Roma were hosting Napoli.  The entire north end of the stadium was covered in flags, flares, smoke, and intense noise for the majority of the game.  That entire section is essentially run by supporter groups.  I don’t know the details, but when I looked at something like that and compared it to the NBA, I felt a little sad.  We have fans in Toronto that are equally passionate about the sport, perhaps even more so, but their isn’t a permanent, highly visible avenue where they can channel that energy. That’s waste.

Social media hasn’t really helped.  If anything, it’s hurt because people are Instagramming and Tweeting at games more often than watching it. I’m with Mark Cuban on this one: anything that distracts from the game in front of you is a bad thing.  I’m surprised that there hasn’t been any social media setup which unifies the fans at the game, i.e., instead of taking selfies of your pimpled face with hot-sauce dripping from your mouth, there needs to be an app/whatever which organized and galvanizes the fans at the arena.  For example, imagine if the entire ACC crowd, in the middle of a regular season game and at the same time, started a DeMar DeRozan chant similar to this:

That would be awesome.  I don’t offer any concrete solutions, and only want to point out that:

  1. There is a lot of passion, energy, and enthusiasm that many Raptors fans bring to the game that stays locked in.
  2. If more passionate fans were allowed affordable access to the lower bowl, the atmosophere would improve
  3. Having #1 and #2 done in an organized manner is important, otherwise it’ll be chaotic

That’s basically it – your thoughts are welcome.  I can’t believe I managed to get through a whole post without mentioning Dwight Buycks or Will Cherry…oh shit…

  • Paul Hendren

    Excellent points on many levels. I’m a former football (soccer journalist) turned basketball father but basketball has always percolated under my skin. Why not use the analogy of basketball teams like Galatasary or Fenerbache in Turkey. Passion overflows inside their arenas. Unfortunately basketball in Toronto has a culture of ” be seen but not heard”. Put on your J’s wear your hat sideways and pose as a fan. In Europe it is the reverse – “be heard but not seen individually but collectively”. We need the culture to change first before we see the ACC galvanized.

    • arsenalist

      There are many such examples, Besiktas is my favorite example for soccer. As prosinecki91 said, there are great basketball examples as well. Bang on with the general “be seen but not heard” remark, but I think the ACC environment fosters that more than anything. I think fans are open to any experience at the arena, it’s just that the experience they get at the ACC is very tin-canned.

      • http://www.gamervets.com/ M1GO

        I’m hoping that winning brings a change in atmosphere and a shift in the arena culture. In previous years, game operations had to throw all sorts of shit at fans to keep them interested in the lacklustre product on court. Now that we actually have a promising team again, and we’re no longer an expansion team that needs to educate the fans on what a rebound is, they need to do away with some of the circus antics.

        I clearly remember many times sitting in the lower bowl, trying to start a “DEFENSE” chant and being the only person doing it, then awkwardly quieting down because people would look at me funny.

        Or the many times I’d be seated near people who could care less about what was happening on court. “When did we pick up that white guy?” – Referring to Jose fucking Calderon, a guy who had been on the damn team for what seemed like half his life.

        Winning will bring respectability to this team externally, but it should also bring more interest from the casual fans. At least I hope it does…

  • Skinny

    Bogus did it in Milwaukee… So it is heard of

    • Skinny

      *Bogut

    • arsenalist

      That had the right idea, though it felt like a bit of a joke. It was also one player paying for tickets, instead of the club. But yes, good point.

      • Shredder

        What about having a large section of the “Sprite zone” in the lower bowl. Only way to get the lower bowl tickets would be to buy “sprite zone” tickets and a certain% would be ushered into the designated lower bowl area once they arrived at the ACC. To have a bunch of hardcore blue collared fans in sight of the tv cameras would be great!

  • Ray

    I completely agree with your assessment of a boisterous cheering section at each and every Raptors game. With the loud and energetic fan support of the Raptors fans during the playoff becoming the envy of the entire league (especially from the players themselves), a dedicated cheering section would set the Raptors apart from any other NBA team. Imagine how much more attractive Toronto would become for potential free agents knowing there is hard core supporters at each and every game? I shudder at the possibilities. Let’s make this happen and scare visiting teams before they even step onto the court!!!

  • Tinmann

    I think flares would be cool.

  • KuH

    Three great ideas. A supporters group. Call and response cheers. And an app to coordinate fans in game.

    A relatively small investment to do all three of these effectively.

    Let’s hope someone from the club reads this post and picks up all three of them.

  • Feather Ruffler

    I went to see my West Ham lads vs Stoke in London a few years ago and it changed my perspectives on atmosphere in a sports facility. The chanting, the cheering and the songs (which would be sensational in a 20,000 capacity, closed arena) made it an unbelievable setting. It wasn’t a game, it was an experience.

    Having said that, the dream of a supporters section in the lower bowl is just that, a pipe-dream.

  • prosinecki91

    i think about this topic alot… a few other effective/efficient ways to create a more soccer-like atmosphere in the arena:

    -Use the jumbotron: all euro soccer fan groups have a leader to shout out instructions/songs etc.. the jumbotron could be used in the same way at the acc – for example: if a player gets hot his name can flash up on the screen (kind of like they have now with “D-Fence!”), “everybody jump” to get everyone in the arena to jump (looks great), flash up longer chants than just few syllables – some euro supporter group chants are full songs

    -Eliminate the music: please please please stop with the music during play… it adds absolutely nothing and creates a Disney-like mood which is an atmosphere killer… possibly just leave the drum to serve as rhythm for chants

    -Eliminate the circus surrounding the game: mascots, cheerleaders, stupid games during time outs… this is absolutely unnecessary… you are watching the best basketball players in the world, appreciate it! there is no need for anything else there to entertain you… focus on the basketball game

    -More flags, especially like the big “We The North” one we had in the playoffs… should have those large flags for every big game and with different things drawn/written on them (not just “We The North”)

    -Banners – encourage fans to bring banners and hang them from the upper bowl terrace… it would look amazing if the entire upper bowl was covered in flags/banners… the banners can also indicate different parts of toronto/ontario that different fans come from

    Just a few things off the top of my head, but i think these can be easily implemented and would significantly improve the atmosphere in the arena

    For anyone that wants to see a good basketball atmosphere, youtube “partizan basketball fans” or “red star basketball fans”

    • arsenalist

      Great post. This sounds fantastic, love the hanging banners idea.

      Also, ROTD.

      • prosinecki91

        thanks fam

        • Split001

          Great ideas, and great screen name.

    • Ogi

      Pune tribine ludih navijaca! 😉

    • webfeat

      Agreed. Watching a Leafs game and a Raptors game is so different despite being in the same arena. A Leaf game has a kind of reverence to it.

    • Matteemo

      I agree with most of what you’re saying, with the exception being the music during play. I think provided it’s the right music it’s great. As a player I know when a sick beat comes on it pumps you up a little more too, tell me you haven’t noticed that Demar calls for a clear out and scores 90% of the time when a Dr Dre beat starts playing.

    • feylines

      having stuff to watch during tv timeouts is nice, as long as they cut down on the more awkward events. the raptor is great and there’s no reason to get rid of a tradition as beloved as that so that we can all stare at the benches instead

    • Theegreenranger

      You can’t have drunk people jumping, and there is more then just hardcore fans so they need to keep them entertained with games at half and music during the plays

    • Knowledgep

      -Eliminate the circus surrounding the game: mascots, cheerleaders, stupid games during time outs… this is absolutely unnecessary… you are watching the best basketball players in the world, appreciate it! there is no need for anything else there to entertain you… focus on the basketball game

      I disagree with the above, my children love the entertainment, especially the mascot. I personally can do without it, but it buys me an extra 10-20 mins of game time without complaining that they want to go home. My kids are 5 & 7. Otherwise, good ideas.

  • Trini

    IMHO– soccer-style chants just don’t belong at basketball games. Soccer is different. Slow-paced with less going on, it’s a totally different game in which singing and chanting sound cool and make sense.

    Now I’m all for being loud and supporting the home team (I’ve had friends tell me they heard Matt devlin comment on-air about ‘some crazy fans’ who ended up being my cousin and I heckling Zach Randolph last year), but it’s different in basketball than soccer. One of the best atmospheres last season, other than playoffs, was the Ross 51-point game. That kind of fan support and how the building was in the playoffs is all we need. Not out of place soccer/European chants that just sound weird at NBA games.

    • prosinecki91

      I disagree, you mean to tell me you didin’t like “Fuck Brooklyn” or “Broooooooklyn” when the Raptors were killing them in game 6…. made it so much sweeter

      • prosinecki91

        sorry game 5

      • Trini

        I did, loved the ‘Brooklyn’ and ‘Defence’ chants. The ‘we the north’ chant in Jurassic park was also awesome.

        But I was more talking about the soccer-style prolonged singing. To me that doesn’t fit with basketball but to each their own I guess

  • SR

    1. Money
    2. Money
    3. Money

    The days of more than a couple random hardcore fans being anywhere near courtside are long gone. Please see points 1 through 3 above.

  • Sidneysixeiro

    I understand how many are not into the gimmicks and would love a more soccer-like atmosphere, myself included. I’m sure if a franchise tabled a legitimate plan to Adam Silver and co they would good at it.

    The arena atmosphere is a big part of the brand, and I expect to see changes to a/v, music and general visual changes around the ACC as part of this rebrand we are going thru. The ACC lacks a uniqueness that other arenas have: Quicken Loans in Cleveland, Chesapeake in OKC and San Antonio have fantastic game ops with unique sounds and sights. ACC needs more of this.

    The one sound I would like to hear is that Kardinal/Tim and Sid/Tuff Gong blast horn go off after a huge dunk, not just any dunk.

  • Split001

    I’m all for raising the excitement and noise level at NBA games; chants, songs and flags is a great idea. But what I don’t want to see is the hooligan element that comes with some, if not many (Euro) teams.

  • B

    European basketball has the atmosphere you mention. As a matter of fact, supporter groups attend all sports in that city so the passion is pretty consistent.

    When the TFC culture took off, a few of us tried to approach MLSE with the idea that similar things could be replicated at the ACC. Didn’t work – too corporate. We’ve also tried asking for designated seating (a supporter section) where flags, banners, singing, could take place and not obstruct others in the crowd, but that too didn’t work. Different mentality here.

  • Heyjoe

    The obvious answer is more beer and cheaper beer.

    On a more serious note, thnx for the good read. Perhaps the grind of the 80 game season is to blame for the atmosphere being somewhat quiet during regular season as during game 1 vs. the Nets the ACC seemed to be quite amped up.

    • Will

      This is exactly it. With such a long season, you can only expect so much fan excitement. Also, a lot of it depends on how close the game is. At the end of close games, fans are into it.

  • robertparish00

    I would love if they:
    1) Threw out the jock jams cd.
    2) Stopped the Day-O
    3) Stopped the: Everybody clap your hands. clap clap clap clap clap.
    4) Got rid to the PA minister/announcer and hire the And1 guy to run after people with a megaphone.

  • DC

    Trivia: Portland is north of Minneapolis.

  • Lets Play

    I have an idea, lets get Subway or Mr. Sub to promote defense like pizzapizza promotes offence. If the raptors are able to keep the other team under 90 points, everyone gets 1 free foot long sub. Now that would be awesome!!!

  • doncity

    The last thing I want at a Raptors game is a “soccer-like atmosphere” – it’s the NBA! I like the hip-hop, I like the cheerleaders, I like the mascot and I like that it doesn’t take itself too seriously because NEWSFLASH it’s entertainment, not war.

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  • Buschfire

    I wish someone who worked at MLSE who is in charge of these things actually read this discussion, as well as all the sponsors who have say in all the ancillary events at a game, it could go a long way… IMO we could definitely be a little more creative in some of the chants. I love how in College ball at some arenas the crowd stands up and keeps there hands up while a player is shooting free throws, then drops them when he knocks em down.

  • Peter Frelik

    Andrew Bogut took large strides in implementing this idea in the nba. Is anyone familiar with this? Being from Australia, a country with its own success in supporter sections, what little I know of his idea in Milwaukee is he reached some agreement with the brass upstairs to take hold of a couple of rows of lower bowl seats that he than sold for fan zone prices to a group that would provide signing and chanting throughout the game. I wonder what the model, deal, and result of that was.

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