Jurassic Park: The Toronto Raptors' Secret Weapon
By day, Jurassic Park is an unremarkable expanse of concrete in downtown Toronto. But on game nights, it is a thriving, pulsing testament to the dedication Toronto Raptors fans have for their team and it's catching the attention of the entire NBA.
"What's amazing about what's going on outside our building is that it's entirely authentic," Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment's Chief commercial officer Dave Hopkinson tells Day 6. "It's something the fans do for themselves. They come together and congregate because they want to be around other fans when the games are going on."
Jurassic Park is officially Maple Leaf Square, but no one calls it that. It runs a full city block right next to the Air Canada Centre where the Raptors play their home games. On game days, it's closed off to traffic and opened up to upwards of 3,000 screaming fans, all of them watching on a gigantic big screen TV.
It looks maddening to be quite frank. But it also looks like a lot of fun.- Danny Bridges, Indiana Pacers beat writer for the Indianapolis Recorder
This week, the Raptors made their first ever appearance in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals and even though the team was away in Cleveland — and got pounded in both games — fans kept streaming to Jurassic Park.
"I've watched it on TV and I thought to myself, I'm so jealous of everybody there," one fan who was attending a game in Jurassic Park for the first time tells Day 6. "They're part of something, so I wanted to come down and try to be part of it too."
MLSE's Hopkinson tells Day 6 that Jurassic Park is fully a creation of the fans who gather there. "All we had to do was throw a match. Once we put the game on out there on the big screen on the west side of the building, it came to life all on its own."
"People ask us all the time, 'When did you come up with Jurassic Park?'," adds Shannon Hosford, MLSE's Vice President of marketing and communications. "We never came up with that name, our fans did. We just embraced it."
As the Raptors progressed deeper into the playoffs, Jurassic Park was featured more and more prominently in the broadcasts, garnering admiration from the announcers and from sportswriters covering the visiting teams.
"It looks maddening to be quite frank. But it also looks like a lot of fun," says Danny Bridges, the Indiana Pacers beat writer for the Indianapolis Recorder. "You've got roughly - what 2,000 people outside watching on giant screens in 15°F weather (-9°C)? If that's not fan support, I don't know what is."
"The first thing that popped into my mind when I saw Jurassic Park was like man, this feels just like College," adds Manny Navarro, the Miami Heat beat writer for the Miami Herald. "I think that's really unique and not something you see in the NBA in other places."
At this point, the Raptors seem unlikely to make it past the Cavaliers but MLSE's Hopkinson says Jurassic Park will be coming back next season.
"It has dramatically exceeded our expectations and quite frankly it's exceeded our ambitions."