New Jersey Nets v Toronto Raptors

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…