Monday, January 18, 2021

The most innovative team of the year: appreciating all the Raptors have done, in only two months

By Zachary Baru

Having no venue to play at, having no where to practice, and figuring out a way to market their slogan "We the North" in Tampa, Florida would each be a full-time project for any sports franchise to accomplish.  But imagine doing all of that in the span of only two months.  The Toronto Raptors of the National Basketball Association did just that, and should undoubtedly be given credit as the most innovative of the year.

Now of course, the title "most innovative team of the year" is not an actual award.  But in the eyes of sports fans worldwide, there are few teams in 2020 that have changed and adapted as much as the Raptors.  If there ever was a team to get a "most innovative" award, the Raptors would almost certainly be in the running, if not the one on top.

The Venue

The Raptors entered November 2020 not knowing where they would play home games.  Forget the venue, forget the city, they didn't even know the country.  With COVID-19 creating a travel ban, the Canadian-based team and only NBA franchise in the country had to adapt to the conditions of the pandemic.  As if that was not hard enough, the NBA decided to allow teams to play at their home venues instead of the bubble that was created the previous season, meaning the Raptors needed a home, and fast.

Enter beautiful Tampa, Florida.  Yes, Tampa, Florida - not Tampa Bay, the region it is often referred to as.  But the City of Tampa happens to have Amalie Arena, a 20,500-seat arena that has never been home to an NBA team.  While the arena is fairly new, built in 1996, it has been updated throughout the years and happens to be a modern arena that also is home to the National Hockey League's Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Practice Facility

When talks between the Raptors and Amalie Arena heated up and become a reality, mostly all within one month, the Raptors had another issue: where to practice.  Since the arena is home to the Lightning, and since most NBA teams have designated training facilities for full practices, the Raptors once again needed to make an eleventh-hour decision.  Just like their venue, the Raptors were able to secure a practice facility very quickly, finalizing the agreements for both all within about a one-month span.  

By November 20, 2020, the announcement was made: the Toronto Raptors would call Tampa their temporary home.  And for their practice facility?  The franchise's quick and innovative thinking continued when they announced that their Tampa hotel's ballroom would serve as their practice court.  With a practice court just steps away from their rooms, and an arena just a short walk from their hotel, the Raptors management were not just innovative, they were accommodating, making the otherwise tough change of venue as easy as they possibly could for the players.  While there is no question it will be extremely tough for those who have family and other ties to the City of Toronto, the team seems to have genuinely tried to make the transition as comfortable as possible for players.

The Slogan

One last part of the Raptors' transition this season that seems to be overlooked is their marketing.  The team is known for excellent marketing, and although they didn't make any change to their widely popular slogan "We the North", the fact that they didn't make a change just might be the most important decision.  Many speculated the team might temporarily change their slogan to "We the South", but the Raptors were able to prove to their fanbase the teams' loyalty, while also taking the opportunity to promote their actual meaning behind the well-known slogan.  

For the teams' temporary court at Amalie Arena, the word "North" has been written in 25 different languages outside the court's border.   Those languages are English, Filipino, Portuguese, Spanish, Taiwanese Mandarin, Italian, French, Hindi, Indonesian, Lithuanian, Mongolian, German, Greek, Polish, Malay (Malaysian), Hausa, Mandarin, Contonese, Bengali, Turkish, Japanese, Russian, Hebrew, Arabic and Dutch.

The team wanted to emphasize that the slogan "We the North" did not strictly relate to geography, but to the many cultures who makeup their fanbase.  “We The North isn’t necessarily an idea of you living in Toronto, Canada. It’s more that we are the outsiders who play our game the way we play our game." said Kevin Mones in a press release.  Mones is the creative director at Maple Leafe Sports and Entertainment, ownership group of the Raptors.  

As for any questions about the possibility of a temporary slogan "We the South", the Raptors immediately ended that talk by sticking a large "We the North" front and center on the new court.  

From having no venue to play at, to having no where to practice, and even figuring out a way to market a slogan that geographically no longer made sense, the Toronto Raptors have proven the ability for a professional sports franchise to use an incredible amount of innovative thinking in an extremely short amount of time.  Given the pressure of everything they faced, it would be hard to not at least put the Raptors on the list of most innovative teams of 2020.  A feat the front office worked hard to achieve, and will be remembered in the industry for doing so for many years to come.  

Source: National Basketball Association, Tampa Bay Times

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at  Zach also writes and

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