Raptors' long playoff run means 'multiple millions' for Toronto

Toronto Raptors fans aren't just flooding into Jurassic Park, outside the Scotiabank Arena, to watch their team's historic playoff run. It seems they are flooding electronic payment systems, too, as they stay out late celebrating.

Credit- and debit-processing firm Moneris says transactions up 14% in Canada during last week's Game 6

Raptors fans cheer on their team during Game 1 of the NBA Finals from Jurassic Park, just outside Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. (Tanya Casole-Gouveia/CBC Sports)

Toronto Raptors fans aren't just flooding Jurassic Park outside Scotiabank Arena to watch their team's historic playoff run. It seems they are flooding local watering holes, too, as they stay out late celebrating the big victories.

According to Moneris, a credit- and debit-processing firm, transactions at bars in Ontario were up by 23 per cent during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Raptors and the Milwaukee Bucks last Saturday night. 

Across the Greater Toronto Area, transactions were up 28 per cent. And in Toronto itself, that number was as high as 76 per cent at the "peak time" of 11 p.m. ET, when the game ended and fans hit the bars to celebrate.

But those sky-high transactions weren't just contained to Canada's largest city. In Vancouver, they peaked by 90 per cent at 8 p.m. PT, and 79 and 76 per cent respectively in Calgary and Edmonton at 9 p.m. MT. 

Moneris looked at transactions at bars across the country from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. ET, covering the period before, during and after the game, which saw the Raptors clinch their place in the NBA Finals for the first time ever, moving on to face off against the Golden State Warriors. (The firm couldn't say how many bars specifically it surveyed or provide dollar amounts to quantify the percentage increases.)

'Celebrate as a community'

"A win for the Raptors is also a big win for the bars," said Jeff Guthrie, chief sales and marketing officer for Moneris.

"It shows the importance of these big sporting events, how it drives people out of their homes to common places to gather — bars, restaurants — places to go," Guthrie said. "I think all of us like to get together with our friends and celebrate as a community."

A fan celebrates at Jurassic Park during Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors. (Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press)

In downtown Toronto, where revellers not only spilled out of Scotiabank Arena, but had also filled the outdoor viewing venue known as Jurassic Park, transactions were up 27 per cent during the game and up 69 per cent at 11 p.m. ET.

For the GTA, the average transaction at 11 p.m. was $60.

In some ways, the numbers aren't a surprise. The firm has reported spikes in activity around Raptors' playoff pushes before.

In 2016, spending at downtown bars during home games jumped 55 per cent, and spending at bars near the arena itself was up 64 per cent.

And there is data that shows how a single game, as part of a multi-day event, can have a big impact on the host city. A study looking at the economic impact of the NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles in 2018 suggested that the impact in Toronto when it hosted in 2016 was between $80 million and $100 million US.

Championing Toronto as a city

A long playoff push "is huge for Toronto," said Richard Powers, a sports marketing expert and associate professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

"Obviously the restaurants and the bars. And MLSE is going to really profit through this. But really what it does is it puts Toronto on the map."

A huge sporting event like an NBA Finals not only generates revenue for local businesses, but it also showcases the city to an international television audience.

"People who may not have considered coming to Toronto see what a great city this is and plan their next visit," said Powers.

The financial impact on Toronto will be in the "multiple millions," said Powers, and when looking ahead to long-term impact on entertainment and tourism, it could mean $1 billion to the city over a 10-year period.

'Who wins here?'

With only a set amount of tickets to sell and hotel rooms to fill, much of the growth in economic activity is seen in food and entertainment, as well as merchandise, said Sunny Pathak, president of marketing firm NewPath Sports & Entertainment.

Official jerseys and other merchandise is selling out — Kawhi Leonard's New Balance shoes sold out in six minutes, Pathak noted — which also gives the "street sellers" a big boost. Knock-offs and unofficial shirts and hats become big business in this sort of climate, he said.

"Who wins here? It's the individuals who make the knock-off material," he said. "The street vendors are really happy right now."

But overall, Pathak said, fans outside the city will learn what makes Toronto great.

"Toronto is a world-class city," he said. "We are getting the exposure that we've coveted and deserved for a very long time."

A spokesperson for Toronto Mayor John Tory said he is thrilled about the "historical moment" for the Raptors in making their first-ever NBA Finals, and noted the "positive financial impact" of sports fans enjoying the city and watching games.

"With a growing number of fans gathering at Jurassic Park and across the city, restaurants, bars and other venues are likely to see an increase in revenue, which in turn will create strong economic activity," Lawvin Hadisi said in an email.

"Beyond the financial impacts, the mayor recognizes that an event of this stature will shed a spotlight on our great city and our ability to come together to support this remarkable team."

Mayor John Tory poses for a photo in Jurassic Park wearing a Raptors-themed jacket during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on May 15. (John Tory/Twitter)

The mayor himself has enjoyed games with fans at Jurassic Park, wearing a flashy blazer embossed with the Raptors logo.

Tourists are already hitting town for a chance to catch Raptors' fever, including some who flew in from British Columbia just to watch Game 1 of the NBA Finals at Jurassic Park. And Brett Poirier, from Prince Edward Island, paid $1,000 apiece for two upper-bowl seats to Game 2 of the playoff series.

He's been a fan since 2003, when the team drafted Chris Bosh. He started watching games and even joined a pickup league himself. The team's playoff success has plenty of Prince Edward Islanders jumping on the bandwagon, he said.

"I was at a store at our mall … the other day and the first thing you see in the store is a huge Raptors poster," said Poirier. "Five years ago, you'd never see that."

Online ticket sales are another good indication of the widespread fervour spurred by the team's long playoff run.

According to online ticket reseller StubHub, Game 1 of the Raptors-Warriors matchup was the third-best-selling NBA Finals game ever for the site, only narrowly behind Finals games played between the Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016 and 2017.

StubHub's data also shows that the 2019 NBA Finals have already outsold the entire 2018 Finals on the site by 57 per cent. In fact, the first and second games of this Raptors-Warriors series alone account for 86 per cent of the total 2018 NBA Finals sales on StubHub.

  • The highest selling price for Game 1 on StubHub was $23,896 US, with the average ticket price hitting $1,371 US.
  • As of Friday afternoon, the highest ticket price sold for Game 2 was $10,000 US, with the average hitting $1,444 US.

"We anticipate that Sunday's game will see similar or potentially even stronger demand — currently get-in prices are staying steady," said StubHub Canada general manager Paul Nowosad, referring to Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

"But we encourage fans be savvy ticket-buyers and use trusted services, don't pay cash and set price-alerts to stay within budget."

While it would seem that all of Canada is cheering for the Raptors, there was one exception in Moneris's data from last Saturday: Montreal actually saw a decline in the number of transactions during Game 6.

"Maybe Mayor Tory has to go over to Mayor [Valérie] Plante," Guthrie said, "to get her folks riled up for the Raptors."

With files from Ali Chiasson and CBC Radio's Here and Now


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