The Toronto Raptors’ We The North campaign is a feel-good phenomenon that managed to capture hearts, imaginations and wallets. And by happy accident, it had a thoroughly positive impact on Toronto tourism, so much so that Tourism Toronto recognized the Raptors and the campaign with its 2016 President’s Award, which recognizes non-tourism organizations and businesses for their effect on the visitor economy.
That effect wasn’t measured in dollars, or hard numbers on visitors. “We The North changed the narrative in the city that went well beyond basketball. It took pride in what Toronto was and is, and asserted a sense of place, a sense of identity that didn’t try to be the same as the other big boys. That’s different from how teams and events and places are often marketed,” says Andrew Weir, executive vice-president, Tourism Toronto.
“In tourism marketing, that [approach] does two things for us. First, it creates the sense that something is different and distinct. Promoting that sense of uniqueness is very, very powerful. The other thing it did was to stoke a great sense of civic pride among our residents. People started talking differently about their city,” Weir explains. “When you look at organizations that host events, including sports, there are more people putting their hand up and saying ‘we are going to host in Toronto; this is where we’re going to have the next event.’”
In promoting a basketball team, “the Raptors did something very powerful for the city as a whole by elevating Toronto’s brand, self confidence, how other people talk about Toronto and how often they talk about it,” Weir says. “We The North is a great example of how [a non-tourism initiative] can have a positive downstream [effect] on the tourism economy.”
Photos & Video: Sid Lee Agency