There has been a lot of ~ discourse ~ recently about the legitimacy of Toronto as a sports city, and the culture this city (and the country of Canada) has when it comes to certain sports. Now, most of this discussion has come from Americans and American outlets, so cozy on up to Raptors HQ, where I’m about to tell you the REAL truth (or at least one Canadian’s perspective) about how legit Toronto ACTUALLY is as a major sports city.
This current conversation was sparked by Shohei Ohtani’s decision to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers after being rumoured to be deciding between them and the Toronto Blue Jays. Yet, it’s been a talking point of free agency and sports culture in general for a while.
Toronto is NOT all there is to Canada
The first thing people need to realize when looking into Canada and Canadian culture, is that Toronto does not (by FAR) represent the entire country of Canada. Canada is HUGE — bigger than America. Toronto is the closest Canada gets to American culture, so if you’re calling this city super-Canadian... you don’t even know.
Since Canada tends to get the short end of the bargain in sports, a lot of Toronto sports teams get labelled as “Canada’s Team.” Frankly, even speaking as someone who lives in Toronto — that’s unfair to the rest of Canada. You can’t expect people from all over the country to be able to travel to Toronto to watch teams like the Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays — do you KNOW how expensive it is to fly within Canada? There’s a good chance a Raptors fan in Calgary or Vancouver (post Grizzlies era) has NEVER seen a live NBA game — and maybe never will! You can’t just write off giving them their own teams because “Canada already has one.”
In reality, Canada has a huge and diverse spectrum of culture, and stereotyping all of it is impossible and redundant. On top of that, pinning those stereotypes onto one city that is barely reflective of the culture of the rest of the country is just proving you know nothing about this city.
Toronto is a multi-cultural hub — you can get ANY country’s cuisine somewhere in the city. There are little pockets of nationalities and communities, and has a reputation of being extremely welcoming. You can come from anywhere in the world and find a little bit of home in Toronto.
Clearly you’ve never been to Toronto
While MANY places in Canada are considered “small town” and maybe could not host a professional sports team, or may be considered small market — Toronto is not. Toronto has a bigger population than Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, and those teams do fine as huge sports empires with rich culture.
There are definitely a few factors that make having a professional sports team in Toronto a little more complicated. Crossing the border is an extra step, taxes are different, visa’s, citizenship etc. Yet, most of these problems can be (mostly) solved with money. You know what people who play/work in high-level pro sports have? MONEY.
So skip that part of the argument and go to the part where these sports media analysts are calling Toronto a small market, or small town, or not exciting, the list goes on. Maybe some of my credibility makes my next statement less impactful because I live in Toronto, but this city has some of the BEST sports culture in the world. You know what sports love? An underdog. Toronto by default usually becomes the underdog in a lot of major sports leagues, mostly because Americans like to pretend Toronto is a “little guy” in comparison to American cities.
Here are a few examples of Toronto being an incredible sports city:
The 2019 NBA Championship and Parade: If you’ve seen any footage from the Toronto Raptors first NBA Championship run, you understand the hype. The city felt ELECTRIC. People would take to the streets and celebrate even before the team made it to the NBA Finals and won. When they did win, more than one MILLION people lined the streets in a championship parade that was delayed hours because the route was just bursting with fans.
Jose Bautista’s 2015 Bat Flip: The Bat Flip heard around the World, Bautista’s celebration in the 2015 American League Division Series is a cultural moment in Toronto Sports history. Everyone remembers where they were when they watched it, and it’s still celebrated. Just look at the reaction it got in the video below:
Six years ago today, Jose Bautista gave us a legendary bat flip pic.twitter.com/YCv5k7toxh— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) October 14, 2021
The WNBA Exhibition Game Selling Out: In early 2023, the Women’s National Basketball Association announced they would be coming to play an exhibition game in Toronto in May. They released the tickets on International Women’s Day (March 8), and the entirety of Scotiabank Arena sold out for the event in less than 20 minutes.
On top of that, the energy in the game itself was unmatched. It was a pre-season exhibition game that was giving playoff energy.
These are all pretty recent examples, which probably shows this writer’s age a little bit... but all still relevant.
Maybe it’s the underdog mentality, maybe it’s the passion of the fans here, maybe it’s the maple syrup sugar rush... but Toronto fans are ALWAYS going to show up. Even when the Raptors are currently at 9-13 on the season and just lost to the Charlotte Hornets... they are STILL going to show up. For better or for worse...
Athletes Love Toronto
Maybe Toronto has not had the best luck in free agency, but players who have been traded or drafted to Toronto sports teams love it here.
Kyle Lowry: Given the title of “Greatest Raptor of All-Time” Lowry spent nine seasons as a Toronto Raptor and resigned with the team multiple times as a free agent. He has an undying love for Toronto, exemplified by the sheer excitement he emits every time he comes back to visit. He has gone on record saying he loves this city and country so much that he plans to retire as a Raptor, committing to signing a one-day contract to play his final NBA game in a Toronto uniform.
Jose Bautista: The Bat Flipper himself — Bautista did the thing before Lowry could get to it. During the 2023 MLB season, Bautista came back to Toronto, signed a one-day contract as a Blue Jay, and spent one last game day with the franchise.
"In my head I was already retired as a Blue Jay."— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 11, 2023
José Bautista discusses how special it is to announce his retirement officially as a member of the Blue Jays. pic.twitter.com/O3004N8DCH
DeMar DeRozan: DeRozan was drafted ninth overall in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors and played nearly a decade of his career for the franchise. He is credited as a huge part in shifting the narrative of the Toronto Raptors into becoming the contender they did leading up to the 2018-2019 season. Even though he was traded to San Antonio in 2018 in exchange for Kawhi Leonard and was not a part of the championship squad, he still has a great love and admiration for Toronto. His impact is still seen — even five years after he was traded, every time he comes to Toronto the arena is filled with DeRozan jerseys.
Hey, even current Blue Jay Kevin Gausman wanted to set the record straight about Toronto:
So maybe it’s not a HUGE free agency hub, but once these players get to Toronto they learn how special of a sports culture Toronto really has.
The point trying to be made here is that it’s incredibly disheartening to see people who have clearly never spent any actual time in Toronto make claims about the city that just aren’t true. People in Toronto aren’t snowshoeing to work or putting maple syrup on everything — in reality we are stuck in a TTC delay and cracking open a beer to ease the pain of yet another free agent choosing to go to LA instead of coming here.
I challenge you to spend just a little bit of time in Toronto and experience for yourself the passion, resilience, and love that Toronto has for its sports teams. Maybe you’ll see that this is actually an incredible destination for even the biggest of sports free agents.