It’s almost been a year since We The North was introduced to the world, and since then a lot has happened for the city’s new favourite team, the Toronto Raptors. By Isabel Chalmers and Jessica Vomiero
“New Season. Same Swagger,” reads across page seven of the March 11 edition of the Metro paper, advertising priority access to the Raptors’ playoff season. There is no doubt that 2014 was a tremendously successful year for the Toronto Raptors. With the launch of the We The North campaign and the re-signing Kyle Lowry, the team’s star player, it seems that in the past year, the Raptors have been doing everything right. However, with a nine game losing streak right before playoff season, is it possible their good luck has come to a grinding halt?
It was with the launch of the campaign in April of 2014 that things began to fall in place for the Raptors. Initially accompanying the now famous We The North tagline was a minute-long video of the team playing at a variety of local Toronto basketball courts, celebrating the city’s skyline, and Canada’s weather conditions during the brutal winter months. With the campaign’s launch, Raptors fans that had once been mocked for differing from other NBA fans began to celebrate their uniqueness with pride. It seemed there was a citywide buzz surrounding the Raptors that had been missing for years.
Toronto was suddenly a winner. We The North brought the Raptors to the forefront of major media platforms, branding themselves as Canada’s team. However, with the sudden drop in both points per game and player morale, there are some who think Toronto’s loyalty may not be enough. The city is still hungry for a championship team. Jeffrey Da Silva, Executive Creative Director of Sid Lee, the marketing agency that designed the famous We The North campaign, says this was the original goal of the Raptors re-branding. He tells Vv Magazine exclusively that the campaign is enough to carry the team through rough patches like this one: “I believe that We The North is a forever thing for the Raptors. Win or lose, that brand identity has become part of the fabric of the team and of the city and I think it’ll be around indefinitely.”
The Raptors are the only Canadian team in the NBA, which up to this point, has proved to stifle the team’s popularity and their technical growth. We The North has turned being an outsider into a positive. A prime example of this rebellious persona is the black We The North flag that has seemed to seduce the city of Toronto. It’s common to find “We The North” plastered across sweatshirts, hats, billboards, etc. Da Silva claims that the flag represents the state of basketball in Canada: raw. “Fans just took it on as if it was always there,” say Da Silva. “We had people making their own homemade signs, making their own t-shirts and stuff. It became kind of a fan-rallying cry quicker than anything I’ve ever seen.”
Sid Lee was strategic with the We The North campaign’s inclusion of Canadian symbols and outbursts of national pride; Canada was displayed as a nation of fighters. Da Silva believes it might be this niche mentality that’s not only fuelling the team, but also fuelling the fans. “People were seeing a different side of Canada. They were seeing the true, gritty basketball culture that has a rich history in this city. We tried not to show anything that was cliché Canadian. Yes, I am Canadian, but when it comes to sports, and when it comes to the Raptors, we’re not nice,” Da Silva tells Vv Magazine.
Should the Raptors start to lose, not everyone is so confident they’ll be able to hold on to their fan base. NBA writer Alex Wong, who publishes under the name Steven Lebron, doesn’t believe We The North is enough to make the Raptors a permanent part of Canadian sports culture. “Over a seven-game playoff series, the better team is going to win. People still don’t view them a championship contender,” says Wong. “They’re a really good regular season team, but we don’t know whether they can win a title.”
By incorporating international music sensation and Toronto native Drake into their marketing strategy, We The North produced a fresh Canadian identity. “Drake might be the thing that most people associate with Toronto,” says Wong. Though Drake’s participation certainly gave the team a farther reach, Eric Koreen, a sports writer for the National Post, simply sees it as a marketing ploy. The rapper can be seen attending every game and, as the team’s ambassador, sits no further back than the front row. ‘Friending’ the team’s star players on Facebook and promoting the #WeTheNorth hashtag on Twitter doesn’t hurt the cause either. “It’s entertaining,” Koreen chuckles. “Even from back in his television days, he sure does know how to sell a product.”
Now that many are holding their breath waiting to see whether the team can consistently perform (especially after their most recent games), the loyalty of Raptors fans is being put to the test. Furthermore, Wong comments that though the Raptors effectively execute their offence, the technical flaws in their defence keep them from being a world class team. Until these improvements are made, Wong goes on to say, “The Raptors and the Blue Jays are always working to carve their own space in the media. It’s much more important for them to continue to win.”
Koreen has a lot to say when it came to the business of winning: “If the team isn’t winning, We the North becomes a fun tagline. Winning is by far the most important thing.” While it’s no doubt that the Raptors have made their name in Canadian sports with the help of a hot marketing strategy, likeable players, and an even hotter team ambassador, the question still remains as to whether the Raptors will continue to dominate the market if they continue to lose. The answer to this question is right around the corner with NBA playoff tickets now on sale. Wong discusses the next steps for the team, adamant that before the Raptors are permanently etched into the hearts of Canadians, they need to demonstrate consistency. “The next step would be sustaining these successes they’ve had over the past couple years. If they really want to build something that’s going to last, they need to show that they can win.”
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