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Rebranding the Toronto Raptors

Since Tim Leiweke took over at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) and thus the Toronto Raptors, there has been a lot of talk about rebranding the Raptors. This is one of the more interesting parts of the Raptors that does not get much attention. Normally, the talk of the Raptors is about what players they should acquire or trade, or should they fire the coach. Normally, the brands of NBA teams are not the subject of much discussion. The teams have names, logos, and they rarely change over time. Even the worst names and logos stay around long enough to be considered passable (Spurs and Wizards come to mind). However, the Raptors brand has never really caught on and has become more so tolerated by NBA fans. What could a rebrand do for the Raptors? Why does it matter?

The Raptors were apparently named after the dinosaur because at the time, it was a fad that didn’t seem to be going away. Jurassic Park was a hit movie, and people became fascinated with dinosaurs. This fad did not last long, and within a few years the name did not seem as attractive as it once did. From a team name perspective, a raptor isn’t the worst animal to be named after. It is plural, which is normally a fan favorite for team names, and a raptor is a powerful animal. However, after 15 years of existence with no great memorable moments under the moniker, it doesn’t have much brand equity. Perhaps a new name and logo wouldn’t be opposed.

A rebrand does not mean anything in terms of on court performance. Players do not play better because their team is named the Pistons, or Raptors. It is mostly irrelevant. However, from a fans perspective, the colors and gear may be more stylish and thus get worn more. The Brooklyn Nets are a good example of this. Moving from their old navy and red colors to black and white gave them a much more stylish color scheme that can be worn and not look foolish. The original purple of the Raptors is the antithesis of this. Whatever the new brand has as colors, one must hope that they are not purple, orange, pink, or yellow. However, maybe with a better color scheme, more merchandise would be seen around Toronto and Canada.

However, does any of this matter? The Raptors are not a great basketball team. A Raptor by any other name would smell as sweet, or in this case foul. Nevertheless, there is some brand equity with the current name. There is a decade and a half of video footage of players wearing red, purple and white. Additionally, the brightest moments in Raptors history involving Vince Carter or Chris Bosh feature that logo. If they rename and change the logo drastically, all of that footage would look weird and very dated. Similar to the Thunder currently, and what will eventually happen with the New Orleans Hornets. With team names, sometimes you are just stuck with what you have. When showing old footage, and creating arena experience, those old moments in your uniform and colors are crucial. If you abandon the old name, the job of creating video features and promotional material is very difficult. There are not many examples of teams changing names/colors but not moving cities. That is the key here as the Raptors are staying in Toronto. Normally, if you move a team you want to change the name so the new fans can associate with that team and not have to pay attention to the old team.

Another issue, one that creeps up when any marketing decision is involved, is can the team get any return on the investment of a rebrand? Leiweke discussed becoming Canada’s team and emulating the Blue Jays. That is a nice thought. Nevertheless, the Blue Jays brand has nothing to do with their Canadian footprint. In general, having glory days to fall back on, and a sport that doesn’t have to compete directly with hockey probably helps more than any bird or dinosaur ever will. A rebrand would cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Would they ever get that money back? Would they notice a sustained increase in merchandise sales and viewership if they were named something different? Probably not. Additionally, just in new signage and logo auditing alone, it would be costly to ensure the old logo is scrubbed from public site could be a huge undertaking considering how all-encompassing a sports team’s branding is.

Tim Leiweke wants to put his stamp on MLSE. From hiring and firing key leaders in the company, to changing the name of one of the organization’s key franchises, it’s evident early on that Leiweke is here to make MLSE the biggest and best sporting organization it can be. However, a rebrand of the Raptors is a waste of time. The name is irrelevant. Winning is all that matters, and an NBA Championship banner looks great in any color, even purple.

Jeffrey Lush

Jeffrey Lush is Co-Founder of Sports Business Canada and a weekly blog contributor. Follow @jlush709 on Twitter.

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