Drake-Raptors Partnership Analysis
Early this week, the Toronto Raptors introduced Drake as their "Global Ambassador" as part of a rebranding effort that will revolve around the 2016 NBA All-Star game in Toronto. While the scope of Drake’s role is yet to be defined, it is understood that he will consult the team during the rebranding process, and act as the official host of the 2016 ASG festivities.
The most cited comparison in recent days has been Jay-Z’s previously held minority ownership stake in the Brooklyn Nets. Jay-Z ‘s ambassadorship of the Nets brand was successful because, as a Brooklyn native, it was authentic and organic – much like Drake’s connection to Toronto and the Raptors. However, there are examples outside the game of basketball that can be mined for insight and best practice.
In the NFL, the Miami Dolphins have leveraged homegrown and locally relevant celebrities like Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, Gloria Estefan and Serena Williams to both build buzz for the team and as part of an outreach effort to reach Hispanic and African-American football fans in Miami. For the Raptors, Drake’s potential goes beyond All-Star game hosting and free-agent wooing. His celebrity resonates with a fanbase that is a mirror image of him: multicultural, urban, young, and patriotic.
For MLSE President & CEO Tim Leiweke, the move to bring Drake on-board fits neatly into a career narrative where the blurred line between sports and entertainment is a consistent theme. His track record of making a splash with celebrity star power stems from his "Showtime" past in L.A, as the CEO of the group that owned the Lakers, Kings, and Galaxy.
Specifically, Leiweke was the architect behind the L.A. Galaxy’s signing of David Beckham. He sensed that a star with crossover appeal, tapped into everything from fashion to film would thrive in Hollywood and reignite interest in soccer, bringing both fans and corporate sponsors along for the ride. Leiweke is likely betting on Drake to do the same in Toronto.
President and CEO of MKTG Canada, Brian Cooper was a VP at MLSE when the Raptors brand experience was launched. Brian was instrumental in building a Raptors brand that transcended basketball and sport. The key insight in 1995 when the brand launched was simple: Canada isn’t a sophisticated basketball market, but it is a market that values entertainment. From that insight, tactics like Cirque du Soleil halftime shows, the Raptor mascot, and trampoline slam dunk shows emerged as a tool to engage a base larger than hard-core basketball fans. Entertainment beyond basketball has been part of the Toronto Raptors brand since their inception; the Drake partnership is merely an extension of the team’s founding principles.
MKTG believes that the property-property partnership is a win for both sides. For Drake, it is a chance to extend his portfolio, hedging against the shelf-life of the music industry. For the Raptors, it is a vehicle to engage a core demographic and evolve their brand.