The “Real BTS of Raptors Culture” focuses on sharing the stories of individuals who impact the Toronto Raptors community by working on projects that provide meaningful moments for Raptors fans like us.
Although these people may not be on a first-name basis, their contributions are invaluable to enriching our experiences as fans. Today, we focus on Mark Vallena, Supervising Content Producer at Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment (MLSE). Mark has been with MLSE for the past 6+ years, working closely on projects such as Giants of Africa, Nuit Blanche 25 and of course, The Toronto Raptors.
Here is his story…
Adam Robles: Hey Mark! Thanks again for doing this interview with us and being our first guest for this feature – it really means a lot. To kick things off, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got your start at MLSE.
Mark Vallena: Thanks for thinking of me! Sports and Creativity were my first two passions and I’ve always tried blending the two throughout my life. From drawing images of Robbie Alomar and the Raptor logo when I was 6, to creating fake AsianAvenue athlete/rapper websites years later, there seemed a predetermined fate from my earlier years to have a career in sports.
When the rise of the current crop of Canadian basketball players occurring in 2008 and onward, I found myself at the forefront of this movement. I was designing websites, logos and highlight reels for some familiar names such as Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Tyler Ennis, to name a few. I would create small documentary pieces of these players while they were travelling on the road at the same time as their stock kept rising, culminating in the famed tournament in 2012 when the Canadian team (consisting of the players previously mentioned) beat out an American team with the #1 ranked player at the time, Jabari Parker, and other top-ranked players such as Aaron Gordon and Julius Randle. This was an eye-opener and as the stock of Canadian players began to rise, so did my work.
Fast forward a year later in 2013, with all of the major AAU programs under our belt for branding (including UPLAY CANADA out of Hamilton and a very young Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) I saw that a couple of my documentaries and highlight reel videos made it onto Sportsnet, TSN, and NBATV Canada which is owned by MLSE. I decided to reach out to Jeff Landicho (Director of Open Gym) who recommended me for an opening on the team.
Fast forward 6 years to today – I have had a hand in everything from Player Pitch videos, Raptor Scoreboard openings, graphics, and Raptors Rundown.
Adam Robles: Wow! I’ve known you for a while but didn’t realize you’re such an OG in the Canadian basketball scene. Amazing man!
So let’s fast forward to today. One of the biggest projects in your career to date was the ’25 Statue’ to commemorate the 25th season for the Raptors this season. What was the process like in coming up with the concept?
Mark Vallena: Coming off a championship and having this season be our 25th anniversary, it was obvious that we had to start the 2019-2020 season with a bang. To me, Nuit Blanche seemed like such a perfect opportunity as it landed just before the start of the season and naturally had a lot of eyeballs drawn to it. Funny enough, the initial concept started with a napkin and the letters “NB?” that I passed on to our senior director in the summer months of 2019. From then on came a fast and winding journey to get to that Nuit Blanche on October 5.
Adam Robles: Being with MLSE for the past 6+ years, I imagine that you have some incredible stories. Tell us some of your most memorable moments over the years.
Mark Vallena: I have had some amazing moments over my career for sure. Creating the new logo launch video was awesome as was re-cutting and re-timing the original ‘We The North’ spot for the 2015 season. Another moment that comes to mind was being in the greenroom of All-Star 2016 in Toronto filming Mayor John Tory and Drake before heading out on stage. That was such a cool moment as we awarded Drake the Key to the City and no one else was in the room. Filming for ‘Open Gym’ during the famed 2016 playoff run was also memorable. I remember running over to DeMar as he embraced Kyle when we knocked off the Pacers of Game 7 to finally advance past the first round in a 7-game series. I followed Kyle and Demar back to the locker room and the entire staff was clapping and greeting everyone. President Masai was the last one to greet the two and I remember him giving the franchise players a hug and saying: “You saved this team!”
I can go on and on but one day stands above the rest. In August 2018, I was in Kenya with Giants of Africa where we launched a brand new school and basketball court in the ancestral home of the Obama family. President Obama was present and I was able to do a private interview with him as well as exchange pleasantries. After the launch, Masai and the rest of the GOA team had an evening celebration as we dined with the locals, partied and ate into the night. Leaving out other details, as night transitioned into the morning in Kenya, the trade that shocked the franchise and NBA landscape went through and the rest is history. I feel lucky to be a part of such iconic moments but also I know my drive, work ethic and passion for it all prepared me for it all.
Adam Robles: This is a big year for the Raptors with it being their 25th year and coming back as defending champs. What can we expect from the Raptors content/creative team for the rest of the season and playoffs?
Mark Vallena: My role has evolved over the years and now I lead our commercial content team. So from my end, Raptors fans can expect to see their favourite players more than ever on different platforms, collaborations and forms of content. We just finished shooting a commercial for AXE where we rebranded the original practice court and re-created the first-ever Raptors commercial with Fred VanVleet (Video Below). Our content teams at MLSE are the best in the business and as we are coming off our biggest year ever. We were just named NBA team of the Year so we’ll continue to focus on pushing the boundaries and tell exciting and impactful stories.
Adam Robles: Awesome man! Based on what I have seen this year and in past seasons, I can’t wait to see what you and the rest of the MLSE content team have in store to excite Toronto Raptors fans. Thanks again for joining us and all the best for the rest of the year.