The Raptors’ lead-up to the NBA Championships was the stuff that movies are made of. They trailed behind the major players three – count ‘em – three times before taking the Finals. No team in the history of the NBA had done that.
This event has some important ramifications for the future of Toronto that reach beyond the actual NBA win. Here’s what we know already about Toronto. The city boasts an ardent fan base, one that shows up whether their favorite sports teams are on the winning or losing sides. But a big win like the Raptors’ NBA Championship means that the city’s sports fan base will expand, extending beyond the reach of the city and even Canada.
To understand how significant this is, it is helpful to look at the role that sports teams play in a city’s economic landscape in general. Indianapolis, home of the Indy 500, provides a good case study. Once upon a time, the city’s motor speedway was its singular claim to fame, if you could call it that. Some called it a “racetrack in the middle of a cornfield.”
However, nowadays, the city is home to a minor baseball team, an NFL franchise, and an NBA team. Additionally, numerous corporations have put down roots in Indianapolis. On the art front, the cornfield is now home to 28 galleries and museums, hundreds of restaurants, shops, and cultural attractions. Indiana University has a branch in Indianapolis, and the city is now a thriving tech hub in the Mid-West.
All of this came about because William Hudnut and Otis Bowen, city mayor and Indiana governor, respectively, decided in the ‘70s that the city should become a tourist destination and the major sports destination in the Mid-West.
What this did for the city was give it bargaining power, not only on the broader scale but on a smaller scale, too. As Jason Borrevik, a Principal at Compsensia and big basketball fan, points out, sports teams, cultural destinations, and other factors like these make cities attractive to big businesses and to their employees.
With the influx of sports-team money comes an influx of talent in other sectors. Winning sports teams become a selling point to draw talent in; they also provide the economic growth needed to provide top talent with attractive salaries and benefits packages.
And of equal importance, sporting events, a thriving nightlife, cultural draws, and the like make people want to live in a city. After all, a person’s salary may keep their home lights on. As Jason Borrevik also points out, the other stuff, the sports, the arts, the restaurants, keep these potential employees’ soul’s light on. Without these amenities, a company that can provide an otherwise nice salary and benefits package may lose top talent to a city that can provide that and a nice life after hours.
Fans Benefit, Too
All of this said it’s not just the city and local businesses that win but fans, too. Once a team wins a championship, contracts for valuable players get extended. Because of what a championship team can do for a city, city bosses and team owners and managers alike, want to make sure that these key players stay in town. But it’s not just the on-field or on-court players that hit the contractual jackpot, says Jason Borrevik. Winning coaches get sweet deals, too. Making this happen involves plenty of cash but brings even more cash to the city.
Marketing for these events goes into overdrive, and related sports merchandise becomes a hot commodity. Team shirts are sporting a favorite player’s number, ball caps, key chains, you name it fly off the shelves, and not just at games. Around town, it’s possible to find these memorabilia in “Made in [insert city/ state]” shops, sports pubs, and the like.
Fans love these items because it allows them to identify with their favorite players and teams. It also allows them to connect with other fans to create the relationships that these connections often bring.
The Pareto Principle
Now, back to Indianapolis for a minute. The reason that it became a city-to-visit has to do with the 80/20 rule, more or less. City bosses who hatched the plan to make Indianapolis a sports destination realized that a one-time event by itself, the Indy 500, wouldn’t provide the city with the desired economic growth.
However, they reasoned that if one sporting event provided most of the tourism that came to the area, then more sports would equal more tourism, more business growth, more educational opportunities, etc. Sports was the city’s 80% in the 80/20 equation.
So, city and business leaders built on the sports-as-destination-events concept in Indianapolis. Here’s the thinking. If one big sporting event brings in X-number of visitors and X-dollars in revenue, what will one, two, three big sports franchise do for the city? It was on this foundation that they built their sports entertainment franchises.
Toronto has several sports teams already. Obviously, the Toronto-based fans already show up for these events, but now, with a championship under the city’s proverbial belt, the city could see an even greater influx of visitors just as Indianapolis has.
Because there are already sports teams in the area, the transition for Toronto to become a sports entertainment Mecca could be easier than it was for Indianapolis. Indianapolis made this plan work because sports teams partnered with city and state bosses as well as with key players in the business sector. These partnerships helped all the sectors grow together and helped the city to avoid the top-down economics that comes with building a big stadium with no infrastructure to support it.
The economic development of the culture, business, education, etc. sectors grew in tandem with the sports sector in Indianapolis. Toronto already has much of this in place, so the city won’t have to build an infrastructure. It has one. It can get on with the business of attracting more visitors and more money without having to pay for entirely new infrastructure.
But it also means that the very structure of the NBA could change in many ways, too. Whereas Toronto as a destination for major NBA games hasn’t been something that the NBA has had to contend with, it likely will now. This could mean that some of the new infrastructures that do get built-in Toronto will be by the NBA itself.
Time will tell.