A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to Prime Time Sports and Jack Armstrong was on, and they were talking about the lack of excitement in Toronto about basketball this season.
Actually, I sort of see that too. Last season, there were a lot more casual fans talking about the Raptors, and thinking the team was going to take the next step forward and Jermaine O’Neal + Chris Bosh would be the new twin towers, echoing what Sam Mitchell had said when they acquired O’Neal.
Of course we know what happened next. The team won the first 3 games and then it’s all downhill from there. Mitchell was fired after 40+ points lost in Denver, O’Neal was much less than advertised and the Raptors won a disappointing 33 games.
Now with all the moves Colangelo has made in this off-season, it seems to make no difference to the general public. I share season tickets with 3 other friends and we sell some of the games to other people. In the past couple of years, the tickets were snapped up as quickly as you can say jumanji. However, this year is quite different, as we all have difficulties selling these games. The die hard Raptor fans are still around, but the casual fans are not buying what the Ratpors are selling. And a lot fewer people are talking about Raptor basketball.
It could be the economy is bad and people don’t have to mood to talk, much less spend. Or it could be the casual fans want to see how the Raptors will perform before hopping on the bandwagon again. After all, last season was a painful reminder that a team hyped up so much could end into a bitter disappointment.
Another reason plays a big part into this: Toronto sports scene is one depressing mess. The Blue Jays has a bad season, their best pitcher (or some say their best player) was almost traded and then they fired their general manager, the Argos is the worst team in the CFL, the FC couldn’t make the playoffs in the MLS, and the Leafs, well let’s not go there.
I don’t remember a time where all Toronto Sports team are this terrible at the same time. When the Leafs struggled in the 80s, the Jays were great, and the Argos are winning (you could argue not many people care about the CFL, but still a Toronto sports team). Then the Jays slumped but the Leafs starts to win, and made it to the semi finals multiple times in the 90s. The Raptors, meanwhile was mediocre, but they had moments where this team could go somewhere (Vince Carter team earlier in the decade and the Atlantic Division winning team a couple of years back). Right now, you can make an argument the best Toronto Sports team is a soccer team that just missed the playoffs in the MLS, a team that got wiped out when playing against a real professional team like Real Madrid and Real Madrid wasn’t really trying.
It’s quite depressing to say the least, and if you are a sports fan living in Toronto, could you really be excited about the Raptors which won 33 games last season and went 2-6 in the pre-season?
The Raptors do have an opportunity to win some new fans. They will always be the second citizen in Toronto sports scene, but right now the city needs a winning team. The Leafs haven’t won a game almost a month into the season and may not win a game for another month (and what’s worse is that they traded away their first round pick). So if the Raptors get off the a hot start in October/November, they will get the spotlight for once. Remember the Jays’ hot start in April/May, it got everyone talking including people who has no interest in baseball. The city was so starved for a winner that they didn’t really care if this is real or a mirage. When reality crashed in, and the Jays start losing, attendance nosedived, and no one cared about the Jays (I have never seen a team received so much attention earlier in the season and then nothing in the end). Anyway, a hot start would definitely get Toronto talking about basketball draw new fans.
However, this is easier said than done. As I looked at the Raptors’ schedule in Oct/Nov, it’s quite a doozy. They will play 18 games in total, 12 of those games are against team which made the playoffs last season. 2 of those games against non-playoff teams is the Phoenix Suns, which won 46 games last season. They will have a couple of long road trips against Western Conference teams, 7 games in total. They will face the 3 best teams in the East (Boston, Cleveland, Orlando) 4 times, including the home opener. If the Raptors come out of Nov with a .500 record, they should count their blessing and be very happy.
However, a .500 record is not going to attract new fans. Casual fans don’t care about schedules and what not. They just want to see a winning team. They desperately want to latch on to a sports team that can give them some hope and joy. And even though it’s almost mission impossible for the Raptors to have a winning record in the first month, it’s still a rare opportunity for the basketball to rise into the spotlight. It’s something that this franchise never have in the 15 years of existence and I hope they can take advantage.
Tags: Toronto Raptors