Raptors’ Championship Victory Solidifies Canadian Basketball Market

Jack Jarashow

Considering the short-lived, unsuccessful tenure of the Vancouver Grizzlies, many people could not help but question whether a basketball team could succeed in Canada. After all, Canada is far better known as the birthplace and sanctuary of hockey. Nevertheless, the Toronto Raptors, debuting in 1995, stayed afloat, ultimately garnering fan support and surviving as a franchise.


This success, as people would eventually find out, hardly scratched the surface of how much a Canadian team could gross. Similarly to the Vancouver Grizzlies, for many years, the Raptors’ inability to win NBA games limited their ability to attract viewers. The Raptors, however, made major progress in 2013, when the emergence of star players, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry helped the team reach a promising record of 48 wins and 34 losses. With this, began an unusual era of winning for the Raptors, as they secured playoff spots the following five seasons. Alongside this improvement, a 222% increase in value (Forbes). After years of mediocrity, the Toronto Raptors are finally among financial powerhouses, ranking just outside the top ten highest valued NBA teams.


For many teams, winning an NBA championship is a crucial, surefire way to engage fans, yet from 2013 to 2018, while certainly growing as a team and business, the Raptors were never able to reach an NBA Finals.


However, with the acquisition of Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol, Toronto could finally feel championship hope. As the Raptors battled their way to the NBA Finals, it became clear: Toronto, even with an ingrained culture of hockey, had room to embrace basketball. Furthermore, with pervasive support all throughout the country, another idea became clear: Canada, too, could love basketball.


Support reached an all-time high during the last game of the NBA finals, in which the Raptors earned their first championship. This shattered the Canada TV NBA record for average audience, as an average of 7.7 million people watched on Canadian TV channels. Furthermore, 15.9 million unique Canadian viewers, or 44% of Canada’s population, tuned in for the game.


Perhaps the most striking display of this fanbase’s support came from the passionate fans spectating games from outside the Raptors’ arena. At this hotspot, often referred to as Jurassic Park, thousands of dedicated fans erupted at the sight of the Raptors playoff success. Nearly 24 hours before the fifth game of the NBA Finals, hundreds of fans already began lining up outside Jurassic Park and shouting chants.


Even by examining individual fans such as Clint, a twenty-eight year old Toronto Raptors’ fanatic, the world can see Canada’s enthusiasm for basketball. Clint even exclaimed, “Not just Toronto—Canada…we want to prove to the U.S. that we can play basketball.”


After years of being seen as a hopeless location for an NBA team, Canada proved its viability as a basketball market. With the combination of eager fans and an entertaining, high-level team, this notion was only strengthened. Now, Toronto’s basketball fan base is among the most admirable on the world. In fact, many look favorably upon establishing another NBA franchise in Canada, and some even suggest that Vancouver deserves a second chance.


With everything considered, it was never the location of Vancouver that resulted in failure, but instead the lackluster performance of the Grizzlies. As shown by the correlation between the Raptors’ success on the court and economic growth, Canada simply needed a bit of firepower to kick-start its NBA market. Likewise to any other business, there was always room for expansion. However, the Vancouver Grizzlies never offered a desirable product, thus its inability to develop a lucrative fan base. Taking this into account, all businesses, even NBA franchises, must ensure that they can offer an attractive product before they look to expand its market.