No longer the “small market” team housed in a notoriously hockey obsessed town, the Toronto Raptors have earned their respect in Canada and built a role in the growing success of professional basketball across the globe.
To put that number in perspective across the league, the Knicks maintain the top spot at $5.42 billion, while the Warriors rank second with $5.21 billion. They joined the Lakers as the three NBA franchises to surpass $5 billion in value — which happens to be a higher fair-market value than any NFL team besides the Dallas Cowboys.
Despite being “only” tenth, this is a good bit of business for the Raptors. The franchise was sold, along with the rest of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), back in 2012 by the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan for almost $1.3 billion to the media conglomeration of Bell and Rogers. This after it was purchased for a measely $400 million. Now post championship-win, the season ticket waiting list is about 3,000 fans deep. And, as Sportico notes, the Raptors’ franchise value has increased 59 percent over what all of MLSE was worth in 2012.
What’s worth noting here is that while championships equal significant financial growth, winning isn’t everything. Franchises in major markets with billionaire reach always seem to control the valuation rankings. Consider the Knicks, for example. The Knicks have held the top valued rank in the NBA for five consecutive years, despite being terrible that entire time. While the on-court product was brutal, the Knicks sold their naming rights, conducted a $1 billion renovation, and just kept marketing to New York’s wealthy (and apparently indifferent) corporate base to increase revenue.
The Raptors, on the other hand, saw a 25 percent increase in value after winning a championship. In fact, 7.7 million Canadians were glued to their screens during the Finals — a number that seemed to grow after every game of the 2019 playoffs. That kind of growth comes from more than just the excitement of a championship though. And it continues to sustain the Raptors as some harder times come both on the court and off.
Say what you will of Bell and Rogers, the Raptors were well on the way to becoming more valuable even prior to the championship win. That’s in part because of the economics of media companies nowadays. But also because of the dynamic duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan — and the shrewd moves of Masai Ujiri — which created a newfound pride in Toronto basketball. Coupled with that better on-court product, the inception of the “We the North” slogan set basketball’s popularity in Canada on a new path. Go ahead and toss in the ambassadorship of Drake, which had a small hand in the hype too, and it’s easy to see how the Raptors have succeed over the past few years. That it all led up to “fun guy” Kawhi Leonard stopping by to help the team reach the top is really just the final jewel in the crown. In this, the Raptors have forever solidified their place in basketball royalty.
But in sports business, winning isn’t everything. The Raptors have a great basis to build and will continue to build with or without another championship. Regardless, I’d bet Drake will be there, courtside, the whole way.