The early days of selling NBA basketball in Canada

Selling tickets? It's not a problem for the Toronto Raptors these days. In the beginning, it was tougher.

Before Toronto and Vancouver had players to point to, they had to sell tickets based on hype

Trying to sell NBA tickets in Canada


27 years ago
Canada's two NBA franchises were working hard to sell tickets in December 1994. 0:25

Selling tickets? It's not a problem for the Toronto Raptors these days.

Back when they were starting out, however, it was harder to sell a product that no one had seen yet.

The same went for their expansion counterparts, the Vancouver Grizzlies.

"Nifty logos aside, the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies haven't yet hired a single player," the CBC's Ian Hanomansing explained to viewers on The National back in December 1994.

"No superstars to entice ticket buyers."

'There's only one choice'

Selling season tickets


27 years ago
The Raptors and the Grizzlies were each supposed to sell 12,500 season tickets by the end of December 1994. 0:58

But both teams were under pressure to sell 12,500 season tickets each by the end of that month under threat of losing their NBA franchises.

That's why they had to hype up the promise of what was to come.

At the time, the Raptors' home games would be at the Skydome, and the Grizzlies would play at the brand-new hockey arena GM Place.

With barely two weeks left before the ticket-selling deadline, both teams were confident they would be able to get it done.

A Vancouver Grizzlies ball cap in 1994. The Grizzlies and the Toronto Raptors had to each sell 12,500 season tickets by the end of December that year or lose their NBA franchises. (The National/CBC Archives)

"There's only one choice and that was to rise to the challenge," Tod Leiweke, a vice-president with the Vancouver franchise, said at the time.

"We've done that, and I think Toronto's going to make it."

A 'fire sale' for cheap tickets

In Toronto, Mark Lavaway, the team's ticketing director, was similarly confident the Raptors could pull out a win.

He predicted that when the team hit the 12,500-seat threshold, that would prompt "another rush of people" to buy tickets.

In December1994, a sign promotes the sale of $200 season tickets for the Toronto Raptors. (The National/CBC Archives)

But Hanomansing noted Toronto was having to push "a fire sale of $200 season tickets to make it."

The higher-end Raptors season tickets, however, had sold out by that point, he told viewers.

Both teams would make their season ticket sales quota before the buzzer went. They got a major assist from Shoppers Drug Mart, as the company bought thousands of tickets from each of the teams, according to newspaper reports.