What is missing from Toronto Raptors’ brand strategy?

I am a huge basketball fan and I support Toronto Raptors. However, this article is not about Raptors’ unsuccessful season. If you want to discuss basketball, www.raptorsrepublic.com is the place to be. Really knowledgeable basketball lovers hang out there. This article is written from a pure brand strategy point of view and should be treated as such.

I wasn’t living in Canada when Toronto earned the right to have an NBA team. Yet, I am familiar with their history. I am also aware of Canadians’, Americans’ and players’ perceptions of Toronto Raptors. It is more than a cheesy marketing slogan: Indeed, Toronto Raptors has become the Canada’s basketball team since Grizzlies moved to Memphis. From Halifax to Edmonton, Canadians see it that way. So do players. For many American players, playing in Toronto might not be very luring because they perceive it as living abroad. So, Toronto Raptors is Canada’s team. But does the brand live up to its promise? What do Canadians like and want?

Toronto Raptors Brand Strategy
Toronto Raptors Brand Strategy

I am an immigrant living in Canada. So, I am well positioned to look at Canada, Canadians and Toronto Raptors objectively. Canada is a huge and mainly cold (weather-wise) country. Extreme weather and harsh nature have shaped the Canadian culture. (To learn more, read Jeannette Hanna’s Ikonica. Probably the best book written on Canadian values and Canadian brands). Canadians are very nice, social, and community-driven people. But ironically they are very tough. Enter hockey… That game embodies what Canadians want: Teamwork, toughness, hard tackles, extreme physicality, energy, not stopping until you are tired to the bone. That’s what Canadians are accustomed to see. That’s what the Canada’s team should deliver. How tough are the Raptors?

Toronto Raptors is one of the softest teams in the NBA. They were  third in points allowed last season. That is not such a surprise, as when they assembled last year’s roster, everybody raised their eyebrows. Having Calderon, Turkoglu and Bargnani in the same starting five is like committing defensive suicide. In general, European players are not known as bulldog defenders and Raptors’ Euros are not exceptions. Same goes for Chris Bosh, the former face of the franchise. He is a talented basketball player, yet he is a mediocre defender and not a vocal leader. He is a finesse player and actually one of the softest power forwards in the league. Back in the 80’s probably he couldn’t even make it to the starting five. Can you imagine him being guarded by Charles Oakley, Karl Malone or Denis Rodman?

Same goes for the coach. I met Jay Triano in person and I must admit, I have never met such a nice guy. He is a down-to-earth, kind and friendly gentleman. However, is he the type of coach that would get 110% from players at the defensive end? What Canadians want is a team that embraces New York Knicks’ once “no lay-up” rule or Detroit Pistons’ “Bad Boys” philosophy. That is what being Canada’s team is all about. Do you want proof? Which fan base would fall in love with players like Jerome Williams, Morris Peterson, Antonio Davis, Alvin Williams, Marcus Camby, Charles Oakley, Keon Clark, and Amir Johnson? Do you see a pattern here? What Canadians want is a team that is going to fight, stand up to a bully and a coach who would make that happen. Where would the Raptors be had they got Scott Skiles? Or Avery Johnson? Or Byron Scott? Or Jeff Van Gundy? I think they would be a team that opponents are scared to play. That’s exactly what Canadians want.

Toronto Raptors might be one of the most valuable teams in the league. They might get above league average attendance. As you see, they employ very successful marketers. But marketing and branding are two different things. I believe the decision to go European hurts this ball club more than anything. They might sell Calderon or Bargnani jerseys to Torontonians. But they can’t sell the team’s mentality. That’s why I see the Young Gunz as a wise move: finding athletic, young American players who love the City of Toronto. That is a right step towards proactively shaping players’ perception.

From brand strategy point of view, being the Canada’s team is a wonderful promise. The Raptors satisfy all but one criteria of a powerful promise: Being able to deliver.

What do you think? Fire up your comments.


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Randy says:

    Well done

  2. Soydanbay says:

    Thanks Randy.

  3. Trivial says:

    A great start to a good conversation, but there are so many more places you can take it. Some questions that need to be asked is how does the Raptors fall into a Toronto? Canada? sports/entertainment perspective? Has the interest changed since Vancouver left? Or are the Raptors contributing to the growth of basketball in Toronto and Canada?

    Some, other probably more important questions are expanding on the Raptor brand in the U.S./NBA. For instance, is the perception of the team more fact or fiction? Does the team need to make a better marketing effort? and if so how? Do the Raptors need to push for more exposure on national U.S. networks?

    Also, how popular is the team and players overseas? Considering its considered a international friendly team?

    Thanks, for the article and I hope you can maybe try to answer these questions in a future entry.

    1. Soydanbay says:

      Thanks Trivial for your detailed feedback and thought provoking questions. I think you are right on money with your questions. I would like to believe that Raptors is helping the growth of basketball in Canada. While I don’t have any facts to support my view, based on my personal observation, when successful, Toronto embraces the Raptors. Success is particularly important for a big city team.

      As per your second question, I think the same. Raptors should proactively shape the perceptions of US players. They should conduct interviews to see what players think about the city, country. Which road blocks exist? Because, you cannot win with international players only. You need quality American players. And if there are certain myths about this place, Raptors should know them and build its messaging against it.

      Thanks again for your feedback. I will try to write a follow-up post!



  4. Soydanbay says:

    Relevant article from Grantland:

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