Toronto Raptors "We The North"

Events, Seasonal and Short-Term (SILVER)

Client Credits: Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment - Toronto Raptors
Client: Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment
Shannon Hosford, Vice President, Marketing & Communications
David Freeman, Senior Director, Marketing, Toronto Raptors

Agency Credits: Sid Lee
Agency: SID LEE
Vito Piazza, President
Dave Roberts, Executive Creative Director
Jeffrey Da Silva, Creative Director; Tom Koukodimos, Creative Director
Jeffrey Da Silva, Art Director; Andrew MacPhee, Art DIrector
Jeremiah McNama, Copywriter; Austen Morrow, Copywriter
Dustin Rideout, Vice President, Strategy; Shai Idelson, Senior Strategist
Jared Stein, Group Account Director; Nicki Franek, Account Manager; Jacob Barnes, Account Manager
Jeanic Larocque, Head of Production; Jac Benoit, Producer
Steam Films, Production Company; Married to Giants, Post-Production Company; Alter Ego, Colour
The Vanity, VFX Company; Apollo Studios, Audio
Stuart McIntyre, Director, Steam Films
Kris Belchevski, Director of Photography
Graham Chisholm, Offline Editor, Married To Giants
Marka Rankovic, Editor
Media Agency: Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment
Shannon Hosford, Vice President, Marketing & Communications, MLSE
David Freeman, Senior Director, Marketing, Toronto Raptors
Robert Middleton, Media Assets Planner, MLSE
Media Agency: Maxus Canada
Steve White, Manager, Buying/Planning, Maxus Canada
PR Agency: Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment
Shannon Hosford, Vice President, Marketing & Communications, MLSE
David Freeman, Senior Director, Marketing, Toronto Raptors
David Haggith, Senior Director, Communications, MLSE


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):April 2014 – May 2014
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: April 15, 2014 – May 4, 2014
Base Period as a Benchmark: April 2013 - May 2013

a) Overall Assessment

Uniting an indifferent fan base of 35 million

To many Canadians, the Toronto Raptors brand was devoid of meaning. While we proudly wore the Toronto name since 1995, the team wasn’t yet a fixture in national culture like the Leafs. One would think we would have been by now, given that we’re the only Canadian team in the National Basketball Association (NBA). But no, we were always relegated to the fringe of Canadian sports news, and never a part of the mainstream NBA. Becoming the next global entity like the Los Angeles Lakers or Miami Heat seemed like a long shot.

Glancing over our Harris Decima brand attribute scores from the start of the 2013-2014 season revealed that the team could mean so much more to Canadians. Although awareness of the Raptors is quite high for Ontarians and Canadians in general, the brand is ambiguous; the values we stand for is unclear. We saw that only 17% of Ontarians considered the Raptors a prestigious brand [Footnote 1]. Even more glaring was how indifferent they were to us: 30% believed the brand embodied not one of the 15 attributes used to characterize, and gauge the appeal of sports teams [Footnote 2].

Something needed to be done to infuse meaning into, and increase membership in the brand, and so in November 2013 the Raptors brand transformation began. We stole some of the focus away from NHL action by announcing that the re-branding effort would involve rapper (and fervent T.O. proponent) Drake. By April 2014 the Raptors was first in its division and progressed to the first round of the playoffs, its first since 2008. But the fact that the Leafs didn’t make the playoffs (and didn’t even come close to qualifying) still dominated news stories and TSN SportsCentre banter, and was the subject of depressed fan Facebook posts and somber lunchtime conversations.

No time was more opportune for us to kick the re-brand into high gear and point the spotlight firmly on us. This was a make-or-break time for the franchise to be viewed in a new light and engage more fans. It was now or never.

How would we infuse meaning and relevance into the Toronto Raptors brand to capture our deserved share of attention in Canadian media?

b) Resulting Business Objectives

Establishing the Raptors as Canada’s team

You only have one chance. An adage that is as true for rebranding as it is for down-to-the-wire free throws. The Raptors brand needed to embody a story so salient that it would stir belief in, and bring Canadians together around the team.

A unifying message would be the key to recruiting and mobilizing fans, and those soon-to-be-converted Canadians. We needed a rallying cry, a battle creed on which to stand to exploit the adrenaline running through the veins of Canadians during the playoff series.

We’d gauge the effectiveness of our campaign in reaching those newly created fans by looking at measures of engagement and increased membership in the brand. The two key objectives over the campaign period would be to:

  • Facilitate extraordinary social interaction: 200% increase in mentions;
  • Break our 13-year old broadcast record of 920,000+ viewers.

And this time of excitement (naturally) meant opportunities for us to improve the health of the franchise. It must be stated, however, that the degree to which advertising could affect the bottom-line of the franchise was more limited than in other instances (i.e. creative timed to coincide with the start of season ticket sales). We would measure the impact of our advertising by evaluating the change in proportion of new purchaser sales versus renewal sales:

  • Increase the proportion of new purchaser sales from 6.6% to 50% by the end of the campaign period.

c) Annual Media Budget
$1 - $2 million

d) Geographic Area

Footnote 1: Harris Decima, “Sports Brand Attributes”, MLSE 2013/2014 Branding Study – Wave 1, January 2014.

Footnote 2: Harris Decima, “Sports Brand Attributes”, MLSE 2013/2014 Branding Study – Wave 1, January 2014.

a) Analysis and Insight

Outsiders playing our own game

The story the Raptors would come to embody needed to echo a sentiment held by all those who would recruit and lead the charge. These people are the “torch-bearers” of the Raptors. They are well-connected, savvy Millennials who have a deep-seated need to belong – they chase certain experiences and support brands to shape their self-identities. To cement their membership in the franchise, the Raptors would recruit fans by helping them find their personal story in the collective story of the team.

But what exactly was the Toronto Raptors story?

Sure, we’re a team that is incredibly proud to represent a globally recognized and admired city, and also to be the only true international team in the NBA. Since we’ve hit the hardwood though, we’ve had shade thrown our way by haters. (And there are a lot of them.) We’ve been picked on because we’re from the Great White North. We’ve been told that we play a different game by pundits, told we’re no good by diehard NBA fans, and told we’re not American enough by players. (But to be honest, we didn’t take offense to that last shot.)

The Toronto Raptors had to stop trying to fit in, and instead embrace this outsider status. And if being from Toronto qualified them as outsiders, then our torch-bearers would wear this with pleasure too. Their deep love for Toronto motivates them to help shape what the city should become. They would eagerly stand alongside us as we grabbed hold of the reigns to better define what it means to be from Toronto.

b) Communication Strategy

Tapping into an intensifying pride of place

It was clear to us that there was a pride of place that hadn’t yet been appropriated by any of the city’s other sports teams. Partly attributed to the rise of Drake and his constant promotion of “the 416” and countless geographical references in his songs, Millennials in the last five have begun to unabashedly call, and endearingly refer to Toronto “my city.” Torontonians are different, are proud of it, and are the first to tell you that.

The Toronto Raptors then, would adopt the “outsider” moniker and employ a tone and message that had never been seen by the meeker, reserved teams in Toronto. One caveat of this name was its negative association. What our story had to do was transform this association into a positive one. We redefined this outsider persona to possess a strong and disruptive personality, with a fiercely proud demeanour, and uniting spirit. We also had to clarify who the “in-group” was. The Raptors and its torch-bearers aren’t outsiders relative to other Canadians, the Raptors and its torch-bearers (Canada) are outsiders relative to the rest of the NBA (the US). There was something incredibly emotional about this rich narrative and mindset that every Torontonian could identify with.

Sprinting to get the message out

Whatever piece(s) of advertising would be birthed from this strategy would need to be produced, shipped, and trafficked within two weeks. There was no surefire indication that the team was in the playoffs until the very last regular season game. We needed to hustle and rally the internal team and agency partners to deliver the best creative the organization had ever produced.

We knew that we had to communicate this new story and repositioning effort in a way that would get Torontonians talking. For awareness of this new positioning to hit critical mass, we needed to create content that would excite Canadians, would be innately “PR-able”, and would ignite widespread sharing on social media. Video content was undoubtedly the most appropriate medium to illustrate the outsider mentality, tone, and bite the team would adopt. (Although, admittedly, shooting a spot would make an already incredibly tight schedule even more difficult.)

a) Media Used

Phase 1: Tease – April 15

  • Toronto Raptors YouTube account – hosted the teasers
    • 0:10s Teaser #1: #WeTheNorth – Storm
    • 0:10s Teaser #2: #WeTheNorth – Huddle
    • 0:10s Teaser #3: #WeTheNorth – Flame
    • Toronto Raptors Facebook account – posts with teasers
    • Toronto Raptors Twitter account – tweets with teasers
    • Toronto Raptors Instagram account – hosted teasers

 Phase 2: Reveal – April 16 to May 4

  • Toronto Raptors YouTube account
    • 0:60 second TV spot: #WeTheNorth
    • TV broadcast: TSN (Bell Media) and Rogers Sportsnet (Rogers)
    • Toronto Raptors Facebook account – posts with 0:60s film
    • Toronto Raptors Twitter account – tweets with 0:60s film

b) Creative Discussion

We The North: Carving a territory all our own

We The North was the statement that said it all. These three simple words attracted an entire nation to stand with the team, and unapologetically claim the dominion of the consummate outsider. (And yes, we’re aware that it’s not grammatically correct.) By referencing our geographic remoteness in the NBA and hinting at the harsh conditions that stereotypically define Canada, this call-to-arms let the Raptors own this pride of place, doing so with true swagger.

Filmed in a dark and gritty style, the films dispelled the misconception that Toronto’s just a hockey town. The films quickly cut between Millennials playing ball in a number of indoor and outdoor courts around Toronto, in daytime and at night, in dramatic atmospheres. By showcasing the city’s vibrant basketball areas like St. James Town and Moss Park Community Centre, we showed that the sport is a bigger part of Toronto culture than previously thought, and that the Raptors will continue to play a major role in shaping the basketball culture of these neighbourhoods in the coming years. These local references cement the Raptors’ role as a proud ambassador for the city, and the powerful visuals impart the message that the team has a chip on its shoulder – that in being an outsider comes passion and grit. 

0:10-second teaser videos


0:60-second film


c) Media Discussion

Phase 1: Tease – April 15

Four days before their first game, three 0:10-second teasers that riled up fans, and set up the 0:60 film was uploaded to YouTube and promoted through the Raptors’ social media pages (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram).

Phase 2: Reveal & Campaign – April 16 to May 4

On April 16, the 0:60 film was dropped on its social platforms, and began receiving airtime on broadcast TV. Aired exclusively on sports channels TSN and Sportsnet throughout the Raptors run in the playoffs, the spot was played on virtually every commercial break during the two-week period.

Upon their Game 7 loss on May 4, the buy ended, and no other We The North creative was in market.

a) Sales/Share Results

Raptors resurgence

While we didn’t slay the Brooklyn Nets on the court, we met and exceeded each of our business and broader communications objectives during the business results period.

Torontonians bought into the outsider mentality

We were able to over-deliver on our objective to increase the proportion of new purchaser sales, with this figure jumping from 6.6% to 68%. While a portion of this increase can attributed to the improved on-court performance of the team, the fact that the split between previous and new ticket holders changed so drastically is a testament to the campaign’s ability to recruit new Torontonians.


Converted Canadians helped smash broadcast records

The Game 5 broadcast was viewed by 968,000 people and bested the 13-year Raptors playoffs high of 916,000 back in May 2001. Three games in the series (Games 4, 5, 7) also bested the second-most viewed playoffs game in Raptors history of 819,000.




The collective consciousness in the palm of our hands

We The North struck a chord with Torontonians. For those two weeks, all eyes were squarely on the Raptors, and thousands of Canadians espoused the outsider mentality, and pledged their allegiance to the team on social media.

#WeTheNorth appeared in 60% of all social Raptors-related content for the playoff season [Footnote 3]. It’s clear that the message resonated was positively received by, and resonated with Canadians. 

There was record growth for the Raptors’ social media following – we saw social media activity spike +300% versus the regular season and we received 157 million impressions through our Facebook and Twitter platforms:

  • Record number of new Facebook likes +170% increase versus the 2013-2014 regular season;
  • Record number of new Twitter followers +130% increase versus the 2013-2014 regular season;
  • Record number of YouTube views in a month +350% increase versus the 2013-2014 regular season; and
  • #WeTheNorth became the most viewed video ever on our YouTube account: +750,000 views.

Overall, the campaign delivered 546 million impressions, 350 million of which came from PR and media. We The North was mentioned in 425 Canadian stories and 93 international stories, both in consumer and trade publications such as The Globe & Mail, The Toronto Star, USA Today, ESPN, Bleacher Report, Rap-up (hip-hop music blog), Fast Company, Marketing Magazine, and Strategy Online.

Media highlights

We spent a modest $230,000 in paid media for the We The North campaign, which was spread over two weeks. Through strategic media partnerships and ingenuity, at the end of the campaign we received $1.1 million in earned media and an ROI of 378%.


The spot was even awarded with a CLIO Sport award, which honours breakthrough work in sports marketing and advertising on a global scale. We The North won a Bronze in the Film category.

b) Consumption/ Usage Results

c) Other Pertinent Results

d) Return on Investment

Footnote 3: Sysomos, “We The North: Twitter & The 2014 Toronto Raptors Playoff Run”, Market Wired, May 2014.

a) General Discussion

Diehard Raptors fans were going to watch the playoffs, there’s no disputing that. Not only were passionate fans cheering for the team, but the infusion of swagger and inspired casual or lapsed fans to support the team – whether by purchasing tickets, streaming games online, watching at home or at the bar, or peppering #WeTheNorth in their tweets and Instagram comments.

But what the beefed-up audience numbers and high levels of social activity affirm is the degree to which We The North bled into popular Canadian culture.

High-profile Canadians used the #WeTheNorth hashtag and dedicated tweets to the team, and effusively shared their love for Canada (Rob Ford, Olivia Chow, Stephen Harper, The Biebs).


We The North became the muse & chorus for tracks dropped by Toronto artists (Benji, SynSational, Humble The Poet), and has been parodied. [Footnote 4]

Montreal Canadiens fans appropriated the message when their team was in the playoffs (“Oui The North”).


High-profile NBA commentator Charles Barkley went out of his way to talk about how “amazing” and passionate Toronto was during the playoffs. [Footnote 5]

The Brooklyn Nets chastised its fans for not showing the support and heart Raptors fans were giving the team inside and outside of the stadium. [Footnote 6]


#WeTheNorth graffiti on the Brooklyn Bridge

We The North
was able to transcend the realm of a “campaign”. At the consumer level, it became a mantra and cultural marker, as the constant stream of #wethenorth hashtags on social and baseball cap-toting Millennials will show. But from a brand- and organizational-level, We The North became the ethos that would fuel a brand crusade for years to come.

b) Excluding Other Factors
Spending Levels:

This campaign was a unique situation for the Toronto Raptors. The team needed to be feted for the fact that it earned its first playoff berth in 6 years, but yet was getting little traction in traditional media headlines. Due to the incredibly tight timelines, and inability to secure a more sophisticated media buy prior to the final game of the 2013-2014 regular season, we purchased a relatively small national TV buy of $230,000 and invested heavily in the creative so it could do the heavy lifting on social media.


For the 2014 playoffs and the 2013-2014 season tickets, ticket prices actually increased 2.5% or an average of $2 per game (+3.64% based on the average ticket price of $55) [Footnote 9].

Distribution Changes:

Distribution of tickets remained the same for 2014-2015 season tickets.

Unusual Promotional Activity:

None. There was no promotional activity for 2014-2015 season tickets.

Other Potential Causes:


Footnote 4:
• YouTube, “#WeTheNorth (Freestyle) – Benji”, April 25 2014.

• YouTube, “#WeTheNorth – SynSational”, April 24 2014.

• YouTube, #WeTheNorth – Humble The Poet (Toronto Raptors Salute – Drake Revisit), April 23 2014.

• YouTube, “#Wethenorth (Part 2)”, April 24 2014.

Footnote 5: “Charles Barkley is puzzled by Drake’s lint-rolling at Toronto Raptors game: ‘Who carries a lint brush with them?’”, National Post, April 24 2014.

Footnote 6: “Nets apologize for official team tweet calling out fans”, USA Today, April 30 2014.

“Raptors Fans Tag Brooklyn Bridge With ‘We The North’ Graffiti”, GameDayR, May 2 2014.

Footnote 9:
“Raptors and Leafs tickets to jump in price for 2013-2014 season”, 680 News, March 12 2013.

Forbes, “Toronto Raptors”, NBA Team Valuations, January 2014.