The Raptors “Drake Night” couldn’t have gone any better last night at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre when the NBA team took on the Brooklyn Nets for the first time since the U.S. team knocked them out of the first-round playoffs this spring in Game 7 by just one point. Rap superstar Drake, the Raptors’ “global ambassador” since Sept. 2013, was there courtside, jumping in excitement when the game ended in a 105-89 win.
At January’s inaugural Drake Night, Raptors also beat Brooklyn. Should’ve dubbed the playoff game that for good luck.
But what is Drake Night? Isn’t every night Drake Night when the Toronto native is at a game?
Well, before Drake was even in the arena, his name was everywhere. The $3 program had his photo on it wearing a long sleeve black and gold Raptors shirt and all 19,800 fans had a special edition white Drake Night T-shirt awaiting them on their seat. On the front was the cartoon raptor logo and number 95 (the year the franchise debuted) and the back read “Drake Night 95;” on the left sleeve was Drake’s OVO owl logo.
Dave Haggith, senior director, communications, tells Billboard that the first Drake Night T-shirt “was a really sought after item, being sold on eBay for hundreds of dollars.”
Just like last time, Drake — wearing a black Raptors tee — took the microphone to do the pre-game player introductions, then it was game on.
Lest anyone forget (the vast majority of the fans were wearing their shirts), the digital advertising sign around the perimeter of the arena scrolled multiple and continuous “Drake Night, October’s Very Own.” His music was also played — a lot. The Raptors’ Dance Pak did their routine to “The Motto;” and a guy in a Raptors head and tail and OVO owl shirt joined the girls for such snippets as “Started From The Bottom.” There was even a Drake Night kiss cam to “Best I Ever Had.”
At half time, the Raptors’ resident DJ Four Korners did his Drake-themed set from centre court. “The DJ booth is normally in the stands,” says Haggith. Drake also walked around the floor demanding people make noise so that he could point to the winner of an OVO camouflage vest and later, in another break, an OVO Letterman style jacket.
In an earlier media avail, Drake told reporters, “?My name is attached to it, but it’s really about this team. The team and our fans are incredible. Yes, people come to get some free stuff, but we have a lot to celebrate with this team. I care so much about this city and it’s amazing to see all of these people so passionate about the Raptors. My goal is to stay with the Raptors as long as they’ll have me.”
Haggith says that Drake has been an important part of the rebranding of the Raptors and the renewed excitement in the winning team.
“Last year was interesting because nobody knew what the team was going to be. It was the start of what it’s become now and this year we’ve got a really good team. So Drake is a nice cherry on top.
“He’s been very involved in the whole Raptors rebrand, the launching point of the Raptors rebrand in April, the whole ‘We The North’ campaign. It launched for the playoffs and he was a consultant on that.”
The We The North slogan — which was actually on the computer DJ Four Korners was using last night — was the brainchild of Sid Lee advertising agency.
“It’s a new attitude and marking a new era,” says Haggith. “A lot people looked at that as a playoff campaign and it was so much more than that. It’s a rallying cry for an entire fan-base and the team itself, not just in Toronto but across Canada. So when you watched the playoffs, the campaign launched just a couple of days before the first playoff game and you saw how quickly it resonated with people. It was pretty incredible.
“Drake was a guy that was involved in that process when Sid Lee came to us with the We The North campaign. We loved it and we involved Drake and he had some insights that were used through the development of it. Drake is a fan but he’s also a smart businessman and he’s been an ambassador for the entire city. So when he’s out there as global ambassador, he’s really the team’s No.1 fan, so for the NBA it attracts attention and new fans and, now that the team is playing well too, the sky’s the limit.”