TORONTO, CANADA – Torontonians gained a lot of attention this basketball playoff season for their loud and proud outpouring of support for the Toronto Raptors. The playoff series between our Raptors and the Brooklyn Nets showcased a National Basketball Association (NBA) success story with the right kind of drama – the kind you witness on the court.
The Greek Community of Toronto (GCT) has received an incredible amount of positive feedback from members about its partnership with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), and more specifically about exclusive discounts and post-game events offered to GCT members this past season. On April 14, GCT members were out in force to witness the Raptors’ franchise record setting 48th win of the season (110-100 versus the Milwaukee Bucks).
An added highlight was the post-game Meet & Greet with NBA rookie phenom, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Currently the youngest player in the NBA and nicknamed the “Greek Freak,” he has previously played on Greece’s Junior National Basketball Team. In this, his first year in the NBA, Antetokounmpo made it to the All-Star Game. He greeted fans in Greek, thanked them for their support, and was genuinely delighted when he was awarded with his honourary lifetime Greek Community of Toronto membership. He was congratulated for inspiring youth to participate in sport and for promoting basketball within and beyond Greece.
Just a month earlier, on March 14th, the Air Canada Centre was the site of a dual celebration for Toronto’s Greek Community. Several hundred GCT members were present to witness the Toronto Raptors’ 99-86 victory versus the Memphis Grizzlies – their 11th win in 14 games at that point in the season. GCT’s members were also there to mark the first ever Raptors Greek Heritage Night and cheer on their GCT youth, the young dancers who performed during halftime. Several hundred tickets were sold in less than two weeks with hundreds more Raptor fans/GCT supporters in attendance including season ticket holders or members who purchased their tickets separate from the specific Greek Heritage Night promotion. New records were set as social media activity on the Greek Community’s official Facebook page and Twitter feed increased markedly, with over 12,000 views of raw video footage of the half-time performance within 36 hours of Greek Heritage Night. An added bonus for Greek attendees was the post-game meet and greet with Memphis Grizzlies center and Greek National Basketball Team member, Kosta Koufos.
The partnership and growing relationship between Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) and the Greek Community of Toronto (GCT) has been a major focus and notable accomplishment for Peter Themos, Chair of Corporate Partnerships and active Board Member at the GCT. Themos has made a concerted effort to offer unique events that appeal to many generations. There is no doubt, however, that the youngest members of the Greek Community – the students who attend the cultural and educational programs – have been most vocal about their excitement about MLSE community events. Themos has spent a considerable amount of time building relationships with teachers, parents, and students.
When asked how the partnership with the Greek Community of Toronto and feature events like Greek Heritage Night fit into the overall MLSE corporate/marketing goals, Tom McDonald, MLSE Senior Director of Sales provided an overview of community engagement initiatives that benefit all youth in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). “We’re very fortunate to have the players that we do – specifically on the basketball side – who are interested in engaging the community. Whenever we have asked the community what is important to them, the response has been all about promoting sports and fitness, and education. These same priorities matter to our players as well and we are fortunate to have so many players who are very active in helping to reinforce our well promoted “stay in school” message. The Raptors’ Team Up Foundation, which helps to refurbish basketball courts in the community, aligns perfectly with players’ commitment to these goals.
Our discussion occurred just before the start of the NBA Playoff Season and on the launch day of the franchise’s highly successful, We The North marketing campaign. McDonald continued, “When we reflect on our accomplishments over the 20 years since the NBA came to Toronto, what stands out is the number of Canadians who have joined the NBA, the success of our basketball youth development program, and the incredible fan-base we have in Toronto.”
“We also recognize how fortunate we are in multicultural Toronto. The benefits of diversity include opportunities to develop bigger and better events with various communities including the Greek Community. Exclusive offers that pair the sale of tickets to games for the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies and the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs enable us to connect with a wide fan base that includes our youngest fans. We are very pleased about being able to introduce franchise players including our Marlies players and Toronto FC players to our youngest fans.”
Themos has been impressed every step of the way when working with MLSE’s corporate team. The generosity of players from both the NBA and Toronto’s Major League Soccer franchise, Toronto FC to spend time meeting with fans has also wowed fans and has left lasting impressions. Koufos, for example, graciously accepted the request for a post-game meet and greet at the Air Canada Centre on March 14th but surpassed everyone’s expectations by remaining courtside for over an hour until every fan request for photos and autographs was honored. Community members also offer much praise and appreciation to Toronto FC’s midfielder Issey Nakajima-Farran, who visited the GCT’s Polymenakion Cultural Centre on April 11th and shared his passion for soccer and athletics with fans ranging from Kindergarten Greek School students to the GCT’s President, Andonis Artemakis. The visit preceded the upcoming Toronto FC Greek Heritage Night scheduled for May 31.
The GCT will provide pre-game and halftime dance performances by the Dionysos Traditional Dance Troupe and Theatre Nefeli. Excitement and fan support for Toronto FC is building as the date nears and the GCT’s anticipated attendance is expected to number 500-plus fans.