This is what the Toronto Raptors’ relationship with Drake was supposed to be: rooted in relevance with key demos and brand exposure to both players and consumers alike. Yet even Tim Leiweke couldn’t have foreseen how symbiotic the much-talked-about Raptors rebranded jersey launch would have been when Drake revealed them on stage on the last day of his OVO Fest concert Monday.
It seemed the moment Drake rolled on stage wearing the new Raptors alternate “October’s Very Own” black and gold uniforms, the internet exploded along with the packed house at Toronto’s Molson Amphitheatre. The Raptors released the jersey along with Drake and popular video game franchise NBA2K, so fans could see their favourite players in the new look when they are playing the video game and what it looks like on the street when their celebrity fan wore it on stage.
“We The North stands for being disruptive, strong and proud,” said David Freeman, head of brand for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, who echoed the jersey unveil was a strategic part of building the brand. “In collaboration with Sid Lee and OVO we launched our logo and uniforms in a way that would capture the attention of our fan base.”
Timing is everything, and Drake has been heavily in the news lately for his beef with Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill and his diss track “Back to Back”, the cover art of which was Joe Carter celebrating his World Series-winning home run.
In the previous diss track, "Charged Up", Drake referenced the new generation Raptors by saying, "I get a ring and I bring it home like I’m Corey Joe" in reference to Torontonian and Raptors free-agent signing Cory Joseph.
That's whose jersey Drake was wearing when he proudly strolled on stage to perform both songs at the Amphitheatre. Joseph has decided to wear the No. 6 in reference to the city of Toronto, now commonly known as “the six” -- and it's a nickname bestowed by Drake himself, as a reference to not only the number being in both the city’s 416 and 647 area codes, but also because it's made up of six municipalities.
But what is the power of Drake rocking the uniform on stage for the first time? For the jersey to be seen on a rapper before an actual Raptor player?
For starters, there was a massive spike in search activity on Google coinciding with Drake taking the stage wearing the new threads. The Raptors were trending (along with Drake) on both Twitter and Facebook.
The unveil garnered 3.3 thousand "Likes" on Facebook, 2.6 thousand "Favourites" on Twitter, making it the second-most favourited @Raptors tweet of 2015, the fourth-most viewed @Raptors tweet of all-time and generating more than 125 million social media impressions.
In the last 24 hours, searches for "Raptors Jersey" outpaced "Meek Mill" by a factor of 2:1 in Canada. Not only is Drake’s battle with Meek Mill seemingly over, but so is the notion by detractors that the franchise's affiliation with Drake is silly and amateurish. The value he has brought as the “global ambassador” can’t be quantified.
Aaron Brindle, Google Canada trends expert, noticed the Drake effect.
“The moment Drake took to the stage," says Brindle, "we saw a surge in search interest on Google. Canadians went online to learn more and to search for additional images of the updated jersey.”
Sports websites like ESPN.com and NBA.com, along with lifestyle sites like Pitchfork and Complex, all profiled Drake's reveal of the new look on the front page of their websites.
On a civic holiday when everyone is feeling nostalgically Canadian, it was the right time and right place for the franchise to formally unveil its new identity.
With Drake bringing a lot of NBA players to the city for his show, along with the Toronto Caribbean Carnival (previously known as Caribana) all eyes were on the city, the franchise and its fan base. NBA players willingly attended Drake’s own basketball tournament “OVO Bounce” which is in affiliation with the AAU team, CIA Bounce, that produced Joseph, Andrew Wiggins, Tyler Ennis, Jamal Murray and Anthony Bennett.
Drake and fellow Toronto rapper P Reign’s OVO crew also took on a team composed of Lebron James and his “Klutch" sports agency in game of kickball at a local baseball field.
With personal guests like Will Smith, Kanye West, Kevin Hart and a host of MLB and NBA players around, many of the world’s biggest tastemakers were on hand to see the uniforms of Toronto’s fastest-growing fan base on display. Only New York's fashion week rivals the amount of trendsetters assembled.
Kevin Durant (who has already said that as a kid he wanted to play for the Raptors) was up close and personal for the jersey launch, after previously watching Toronto Blue Jays fans serenade David Price with ovations. Durant took in the concert with DeMar Derozan, and was seen wearing a Blue Jays Price jersey, only fuelling rumours the impending free agent will someday wear a Raptors uniform.
Last year Drake and the Raptors were fined because of Drake probing the OVO Fest crowd with regards to Durant, which was ultimately determined to be considered tampering.
This year nothing had to be said. The crowd's reaction at both the Rogers Centre and the Molson Amphitheatre spoke volumes.
Drake has proven he can move merchandise. At the OVO Fest, three stalls of his "October's Very Own" brand were barely able to keep up with demand. The Raptors are expecting to move similar units of their new uniform, which was designed to appeal to the entire nation; the maple leaf on the waistband is a constant reminder of the team’s heritage and cross-country fan base.
Small detailing like expanding up on the successful “We The North” font type helps differentiating it from other uniforms rather than crazy colours like the new Atlanta Hawks rebrand that became a running joke online.
“Drake has added a whole new orientation to the Raptors and that is to the millennials," said PhD Marketing professor Alan Middleton of the Schulich School of Business at York University. "He’s made them relevant with their core fan base, but beyond that he has transitioned to a broader Canadian pride. Many non-Drake traditional fans petitioned Kanye West’s inclusion at the Pan Am’s by saying, 'Why isn't it Drake? He is one of ours.' The relationship is both to his benefit but to the benefit for the Raptors. They expose each other to unique fans across economic and social lines.”
Remember when people were complaining about the colours and the name of the team? Tim Leiweke spent a good time of his introductory press conference talking about the possibility of changing the team’s name and colours.
Remember when Drake’s relationship with the team was a punchline to either make fun of Drake or the Raptors? Now all of talk is a thing of the past. They have figured out they can grow their fan base by catering to their hardcore fans and asking them to co-sign their cool factor. For a weekend, at least, being in Toronto was cool; supporting the city and the country was cool; wearing anything Raptors-related was cool.
Regardless if any of the talented NBA players ever don the new look Raptors uniform in the future is beside the point. In rolling out the jersey with Drake and putting a stamp on the "We the North" movement when all eyes were watching, it became crystal clear the misnomers about taxes and access to American cable are a thing of the past. Being aligned with the Raptors is now desirous not just in Canada but world wide by the fans, the players and the global ambassador himself.