CASSIES Gold: The Raptors’ northern pride

"We The North" recast the Raptors and their fans as outsiders, to great effect.
In Game

This story appears in the February/March 2016 issue of strategy.

Best Insight

Situation Analysis: Despite being Canada’s only NBA team, the Toronto Raptors hadn’t become a fixture in national culture like our hockey teams. The brand’s identity – its story, values and personality – was unclear, with brand health scores verifying people’s indifference. The Raptors brand needed an evocative story, one that every Canadian could identify with, to recruit and mobilize new fans.

Insight & Strategy: The Raptors’ history was one of constant discrimination. With pundits saying they played a different game than in the U.S., and diehard NBA fans not considering the team a part of basketball culture, the Raptors were seen as outsiders in a sport invented by a Canadian. By not trying to fit in and instead embracing this role, the Raptors could adopt a position no other Canadian sports franchise had ever taken: the outsider. Striking a deep chord with people meant dropping the Canadian “nice guy” stereotype. The target market was identified as young people in Toronto’s urban core. Savvy and well-connected, this culturally diverse group that’s proud to be from Toronto could play a pivotal role in spreading the message across the country.

Execution: “We The North” was crafted to spark a sense of patriotism with second- and third-generation Canadians and appeal to the similar outsider sentiment felt by new Canadians.

Phase one launched on April 15, four days before the team’s first playoff game, with three 10-second teasers and a 60-second film – shot in a dark and gritty style – uploaded to YouTube and promoted through the Raptors’ social media pages. Phase two, the reveal and campaign, ran from April 16 to May 4 on broadcast TV, exclusively on TSN and Sportsnet. Merchandise was made available for the first game on April 19, and the line continues to be sold in stores.

Results: The target to increase the proportion of new purchaser ticket sales from 6.6% to 50% was exceeded by 18.1%. In one year, brand health scores show that brand connection exceeded objectives by growing 14.7 points to 63%, making the Raptors the highest-scoring MLSE team for brand connection. Through strategic media partnerships, “We The North” received $1.1 million in earned media and generated a return on investment of 378%.

Cause & Effect: The Raptors’ social channels exhibited record growth, up 300% versus the regular season, and the campaign received 157 million impressions through owned Facebook and Twitter platforms. Facebook likes increased 170% versus the 2013-2014 regular season, with Twitter followers up 130% and YouTube views up 350%.

#WeTheNorth became the most-viewed video ever on the Raptors’ YouTube account with 865,000 views. The Raptors’ social following shifted from being heavily Ontario-centric to comprising of 60% non-Ontario followers. The 2014-2015 season ticket prices increased 2.5% (an average of $2 per game) with no extra promotional activity.


Client: Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment – Toronto Raptors

Senior director, marketing, Toronto Raptors & TFC: David Freeman

VP, marketing & communications: Shannon Hosford

Senior director, communications: David Haggith

Media assets planner: Robert Middleton

Media agency: Maxus Canada

Manager, buying/planning: Steve White (Maxus Canada)

Agency: Sid Lee

ECD: Dave Roberts

CDs: Jeffrey Da Silva, Tom Koukodimos

ADs: Andrew MacPhee, Jeffrey Da Silva

CWs: Jeremiah McNama, Austen Morrow

Group account director: Jared Stein

VP, strategy: Dustin Rideout

Account managers: Jacob Barnes, Nicki Franek

Senior strategist: Shai Idelson

Head of production: Jeanic Larocque

Producer: Jac Benoit

Director: Stuart McIntyre (Steam Films Toronto)

Director of photography: Kris Belchevski

Offline editor: Graham Chisholm (Married to Giants)

Editor: Marka Rankovic

Colour, FX/online: Alter Ego & The Vanity

Music: Apollo Studios