Rage Against The Machine and Raptors Relevancy

8 mins read

It’s no new insight that in professional sports, winning attracts attention. Cereal boxes, tickertape parades, bedroom posters, playground impersonators, hours of televised fawning – all in honour of the big W. Losers can be relevant, but they’re relevant for losing. You may get noticed for setting futility records, but being a spectacular failure won’t make you matter… or make you money.

The Toronto Raptors are in an unenviable situation. Our geographical disadvantage starts us behind the 8-ball. Add to that our uninspiring play and lack of marketable assets, it should be no surprise that even Torontonians are having a hard time backing the team this season. As for our place in the league… well, suffice to say Minnesota’s the hotter topic. On Planet NBA the Raptors are a tiny, uninhabited island far off the coast of Who Gives a F**k.

This shitty article asked a bunch of supposed ad men, “How do you make people care about [the Raptors]?” First off, the article is asking the wrong question. The challenge shouldn’t be “how to make the Raptors matter in Toronto”. The challenge should be “how to make the Raptors matter in the NBA”. Their micro approach won’t yield the macro results they’re hoping for. But if there’s a buzz around the league, our homegrown pride-o-meter will detect our improved status and you’ll see more jerseys, more vanity license plates – and more ticket sales.

Anyway, back to the panel of “respected” “marketing” “geniuses”. They pooled their thoughts and came up with bobbleheads, free ticket giveaways, and painting more community centres. I’m pretty sure you can’t call them your new ideas if they’re already in practice. Talk about inspired thinking. Well listen here, MLSE. I’m an ad man too. Except I actually have a plan. It’s bold, a little crazy, guaranteed to be contoversial…but it will work.

Question: How do we make the Raptors relevant in the greater picture of the NBA?

Answer: Take the power back.

All we need is one fan and a small business loan (or a rich fan, that would work too). The first step is to take $100,000 and put it an account. That’s our Technical Freedom Fund. In the face of the new rules, we’ll turn to the Raptors roster and say, “react away”. They get fined, the fund pays it (with the money going to charity, like it currently does) – and the players are no longer forced to act like emotionless revenue robots.

On the surface, I’m aware this sounds ridiculous. But hear me out:

1) What I’m proposing is not to give players free reign to abuse officials. In fact, it’s the opposite. There would be no compensation for needless whining, nor would their be financial backing for any player that breaks one of three simple rules: nothing vulgar, nothing intimidating, nothing racial. Instead, the rules would encourage flair and creativity in their reactions. We could have fans tweet suggestions to their favourite players before tipoff (“Shine Crawford’s head!”, “Blow kisses to Beyonce!”). The Raptors could even hire a “consultant” to teach the players the finer points of flair (this guy has my vote). Hockey has fights, football has touchdown dances, soccer has goal celebrations. Doesn’t basketball deserve creative expression too?

2) Yes, they can afford to pay their own fines. But no matter how many millions they have, this isn’t the way they want to spend it. New money isn’t wired to be taxed – it’s wired to blow wads on steaks, speedsters, and strip clubs. If there were 1.74 technicals/game in the pre-season – when games don’t matter and emotions are still dormant – then the regular season is going to have renegade refs blowing loosely, slinging T’s for yawning, mismatched shoes, and elaborate high-fives. This fund liberates the player from this unjust oppression, leaving them free to release their emotion and passion. It’s the ultimate “we got your back”.

3) Tell me we couldn’t find a sponsor for this. The Claritin “Reaction of the Week”? HP’s “Express Yourself Moment of the Game”? The MGD “Genuine Reaction”? There would be a lineup of companies looking to match the initial $100K just for the earned media alone, making them the Raptors’ most exposed sponsor at a bargain basement price. Talk about ROI! Further, it would endear them to the fan base as the brand that understands what they really want. It’s the marketing equivalent of actually finding the needle deep in the haystack.

4) A fan and a sponsor creating a $200,000 slush fund for players to celebrate dunks, protect teammates, and dispute calls? Forget the NBA, it would be the biggest story in pro sports: fans taking the muzzles off their sporting heroes, in the face of Stern and his yes-men cronies. All this hoopla and the Raptors would be at the center of it, openly shunning the league’s rules without doing anything wrong/illegal*. Mark Cuban would be so jealous. Why? Because it’s the type of action that sells tickets. Raptors games would be fun again. It would be the featured topic of every sports talk show. Clips would be on every highlight reel. It would put the entertainment back into “sports entertainment”. It would be only a matter of time before other teams followed suit. Hell, I’d bet there’s a category at the 2012 ESPY’s.

* I realize this is a matter of opinion…this is mine.

If you’re not nodding your head by now, I ask: why wouldn’t this work? Because it’s unsportsmanlike? Was it unsportsmanlike last season before the rule? It beating a team by 40 unsportsmanlike? How about allowing these Lilliputian linesmen to run around with their dress pants stacked full of David Stern’s get-out-of-jail-free cards? Especially considering their track record?

You can argue the method, but you can’t argue the result: the Raptors would become an important player on the NBA stage. Revolutionary ideas have challenged the league-mandated status quo before. And while I’m aware of my hyperbolic comparison, a world without consequence is a dangerous place. If we can use our Raptor claws to poke holes in these prohibitive new rules, maybe we can make it a beneficial one.

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