Toronto Raptors 2010: Where realistic marketing happens

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Last Sunday I went to the Toronto Raptors’ preseason game against the Phoenix Suns (I never turn down an opportunity to see Steve Nash play if I can help it). As I sat in the stands, I was struck by the massive branding shift prompted by Chris Bosh’s departure to the Miami Heat and the welcoming arms of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade.

Unexpected? Hardly. After seven years with Bosh as the franchise’s powerhouse (to say nothing of his informal roles as youtube czar and chief tweeter), change is a no-brainer.

But the nakedness in the new branding approach, which was constantly scrolling over the arena TV screens, was amusing.

Who replaced Chris Bosh, Raptor fans?

You did.

They’re handing you the ball and everything.

Ignore the fact that the face of the franchise has walked out the door and that management hasn’t spent the cash to lock down a replacement star.

With you along for the ride — to say nothing of most of the guys who dialed it in last season — we have nothing to worry about.

Sarcasm aside, it’s a shrewd and somewhat honest choice. Never underestimate the genius of the NBA’s marketing colossus. At their best, they’re capable of making videos that capture the grace that drives all sport and set the bar for every other professional franchise.

I digress.

This shift in tone for the Raptors’ marketing also informs the new promo video that runs at each home game to introduce the line-up. Gone are the glory shots and slow-mo or the silly car featuring the players driving around in club clothes — which sort of hilariously prefigured the partying that was said to have derailed their focus last year.

If you have a better version of that promo video, let me know. That was the best I could find and it’s practically unwatchable.

Instead, the new montage opens with the team on the bus and segues through practice footage before moving in workmanlike fashion to game and fan footage. It’s anything but flashy.

The message?

We need to earn it. We’re not starting at the top this time. (Or what constitutes the top for the Raptors.)

Let’s be honest. As tough economic times continue, the Raptors really do need you to carry them through a few rebuilding years until they get their collective act together. They’re even trying to make season tickets sound affordable, until you do the math and figure out that $22 x 41 home games is still $902 plus tax, and that the $22 seats are in the rafters where the view is crap.

Trust me. I’ve sat there.

Still, emphasizing the fans is a nice acknowledgment. This is particularly true and necessary for a team that, like its sister clubs the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto FC, enjoys a zealous fan base whose rabidness far outweighs the club’s actual achievements.

(Don’t talk to me about 1967, Leaf Nation. Seriously, shut up.)

The Raptors made it to the second playoff round once in the 2000-01 season, yet fan attendance has hovered in the top third of NBA teams for several years. Acknowledging the importance of fan support is an interesting way of playing down the current all-star vacuum on the bench.

Maybe fewer immediate prospects and less pressure will allow the Raptors to reshape themselves.

Besides, you never know who might step up and into Chris Bosh’s breach.

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