SBJ/Dec. 9-15, 2013/Franchises

Drake, Raptors working on ‘We Are North’ campaign

The Toronto Raptors and rapper Drake, the team’s goodwill ambassador, are crafting a marketing campaign called “We Are North” as the team begins a branding overhaul.

During a recent industry conference, Tim Leiweke, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, introduced a short video using Drake’s music and voice to convey a message to fans and players alike to embrace the city’s image as a cold-weather market.

The video kicks off with a display of wintry images followed by shots of spectacular Raptors plays flashing across the screen. Drake’s deep voice can be heard, saying, “Some say we’re on the outside looking in, but from our perspective, we’re on the outside looking … within … because that’s where the effort resides, toughness is formed, the aggression is tapped; on the inside. Doesn’t matter where you are on the map. Only what’s in you will put you on the map.”

The video — which Leiweke said still must be approved for music licensing purposes before it can be released publicly — is among the first steps to rebrand the Raptors from top to bottom as the club moves to wipe away years of futility both on and off the court.

Raptors officials declined to speak in detail about the campaign, but Dave Haggith, a spokesman for MLSE, which also owns the NHL Maple Leafs and MLS Toronto FC, said no final decisions on the rebranding effort have been made.

“The video that Tim referenced is an intriguing one and would be a great launching point for the rebranding of the Raptors,” Haggith said. “Drake will have a strong voice in the rebranding process.”

Bottom line: The video sends a clear message that the Raptors won’t use the Toronto weather as an excuse for not attracting some of the NBA’s best players, according to Leiweke.

“The reason I love this is when I came to Toronto, right before I fired 16 people, they were telling me why no one will come to Canada,” said Leiweke, who joined MLSE this summer. “‘No player will stay here. It’s cold. We have snow.’ So I went out and talked to some NBA players. As it turns out, the favorite city for most of them to visit is Toronto. Great nightlife, they love the hotels, the retail and brands are phenomenal.”

It took an entertainer to figure out what veteran sports executives no longer employed by MLSE couldn’t, Leiweke said.

“Drake singlehandedly came along and said, ‘We’re going to grow a set of you-know-whats and we are going to celebrate [that] we’re unique, we’re different, we’re the only ones, and we are the north side,’” he said. “It’s one of the smartest things I’ve ever seen from a guy we’re not even paying.”

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