Over the years, the Toronto Raptors have heard all about the perceived disadvantages of NBA life north of the border.
The complaints have run the gamut – from the long, snowy winters, to concerns about taxes to the lack of ESPN on cable TV. Instead of playing defence when it comes to perception, the franchise is going on the offensive.
The Great White North is embraced and the Ontario capital takes centre stage in the team’s new “We The North” campaign, which features a 60-second video that kicks off a massive franchise rebrand over the next two years.
“This is the statement we want to make to Canada and I think this is the chip we have, which is we’re the north and there’s no one else,” Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment president Tim Leiweke said Wednesday from New York.
“It’s just us and everyone looks past us. But we’re okay with that now.”
The video is not meant to be an advertisement for a team preparing to make its first playoff appearance in six years. Instead, the franchise wants the spot and the campaign to serve as a foundation for a team revolution.
“This is a crusade now,” Leiweke said. “This is not just a rally cry, this is, I think, our identity.
“I think that’s what we like about this is for the next two to three years, this is who we are and this is who we represent and this is who we fight for.”
The team is still finalizing release plans for other components of the campaign. However, new colours and a new logo will be rolled out “in short order,” Leiweke said.
The campaign is from Sid Lee‘s Toronto office (with Dave Roberts, Jeffrey Da Silva, Tom Koukodimos the creative directors), though Toronto hip-hop artist Drake was “heavily involved” in the inspiration for the spot, and Leiweke said the team’s global ambassador was also involved in logo plans and the decision to stick with the Raptors name.
“He thinks that the Vince Carter generation, those kids that grew up and got inspired by Vince, these are now the (Anthony) Bennetts of the world and the (Andrew) Wiggins of the world,” Leiweke said. “And they relate to the Raptors in a very different way than that Barney dinosaur or Jurassic Park marketing campaign.
“Now this is a cultural thing and Drake said, ‘Stick to it and just define your culture and make it you.’”
In the video, clips of the city skyline are mixed with snippets of basketball action from local neighbourhoods and highlights of the Raptors in action.
“And far from the east side, miles from the west side, nowhere near the south side, we are the north side,” a narrator says in the piece. “A territory all our own. And if that makes us outsiders – we’re in.”
“My favourite shot is the kid bouncing the basketball through the field of ice,” Leiweke said. “And it’s like, ‘That’s it right there. That’s what we want.’”