Hotline Brand: Drake’s brilliant work as Raptors ambassador

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you’re cheering along with us here at Provident for the Toronto Raptors, who are up 2-1 in the NBA final against the venerable Golden State Warriors. Not only is it the team’s first chance to bring a championship home, the series opener in Toronto was the first time in history an NBA finals game had ever been played outside of the United States.

While sports commentators have been weighing in on how each team stacks up against one another on the court -- Steph Curry versus Kahwi Leonard, for example --  the Raptors have one thing the Warriors do not: A global brand ambassador who’s helped jettison the Raptors into a worldwide household name. The team, now estimated to be worth nearly US$2 billion, is the most valuable sports team in Canada. But they didn’t get to where they are just by winning. Some of their newfound success can be attributed to Drake, who will be back on the sidelines in Toronto on Monday night very visibly and passionately cheering on his team.

Drake, one of the biggest names in music, became the Raptors’ global ambassador in 2013. At the time, the team hadn’t made the playoffs in years, and they were grappling with the unfair narrative of being a team stuck in a frozen wasteland that couldn’t attract top talent. Fast forward to the current day, and the Raptors have made the playoffs every year since 2013, have arguably the best player in the league and have effectively silenced all the critics who said Toronto would never be a basketball town and that the sport would wither in hockey-crazed Canada.

Drake has played a big role in the success.

For starters, the hip hop star has practically redefined what a brand ambassador is. For those not entirely familiar with the term, a brand ambassador is someone who’s a big supporter or fan of a service or product and is hired to promote it in a positive light. Drake’s fame and his love of basketball and Toronto, his hometown, makes him a natural fit for the Raptors. And he’s now become so integral to the team’s identity that the organization has branded jerseys after him and recently renamed their practice facility the OVO Athletic Centre. That’s a nod to Drake’s record label and clothing line, “October’s Very Own.”

There aren’t many brand ambassadors with that kind of clout.  And Drake practises what he preaches. His courtside antics have riled his opponents, and he’s become a lightning rod for criticism from opposing fans. Even radio stations are banning his music because of his close affiliation with the Raptors.

Without Drake, the team likely wouldn’t have the same swagger, and he’s been instrumental in their success on and off the court. Television viewership is hitting record numbers. Ticket sales are atop the entire NBA. His own “Drake Night” has become one of the most anticipated events of the year.

The Raptors started from the bottom, now they’re here. And Drake, a brand ambassador extraordinaire, has been a slam dunk for the team, helping them rise to the top. He’s a lesson in the importance of an effective and passionate brand ambassador for every business, team or cause.