Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Blog blast past: A sure bet for getting more attention for the Raptors

It turns out someone was on about getting the NBA back on Pro-Line (Ontario's government-run sports lottery) more than two years ago. From Oct. 31, 2007:

Here's one untouched upon reason why the Raptors don't get more widespread attention outside their core fan base: People in Ontario can't stop by a convenience store and include the Raptors on a Pro-Line ticket.

Putting your money where your mouth fuels interest in sports. Just listen to a discussion among guys in an office on Mondays during the NFL season. They'll talk about how they did in the pool or how a team scored a meaningless last-second touchdown to blow the point spread or the over/under. It's similar for the NHL, baseball and soccer in Ontario (no one does the arm's-length symbiotic relationship with gambling better than the NFL).

But NBA talk can be a non-starter. The league's absence from Pro-Line isn't the only reason, but it's a big one, since Ontario is Canada's most populous province and has the biggest influence nationally on cultural tastes. The league has been off Pro-Line since the mid-1990s. Commissioner David Stern made it a condition of granting the Raptors franchise.

What's one reason why fewer people are less interested in the NBA compared to 15 years ago? They can't bet on it using the most convenient means available. Why do the flailin' and failin' Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team get so much media play while the Raptors, far more interesting and fun to follow, get much less? Because editors and producers don't believe the interest is there. See how it works? A big part of why someone watches the 11 p.m. sports highlights, checks the web at ungodly hours and picks up the morning paper is to find out how they lost their bets, or how they will bet next time.

It says a lot about MLSE that it hasn't tried to get Stern to reverse his decision. The commish was an anti-gambling hawk then (in the shadow of point-shaving scandals in college basketball in the 1980s). Changing times have forced him to soften his stance in the wake of the Tim Donaghy scandal. The perfect storm of the Internet and the revenue-hungry governments have made casual gambling on sports an everyday activity. Stern is sensitive to the dark side of this, but he knows you have to play ball, so to speak.

Stern can only ride that wave -- he even took the 2007 NBA All-Star Game to Las Vegas. Yet you or me can walk into the Union St. subway station in downtown Toronto, go into a smoke shop, grab a Pro-Line sheet, and not be able to bet on a Raptors game taking place a few hundred metres away at the Air Canada Centre. Figure that out.

How does MLSE deny itself a chance to expand the Raptors brand? That's the problem with a corporation that exists for bankers and investors, not sports fans.

Some big-business type isn't stopping at the Kwik-e-Mart to play Pro-Line since gambling remains a taboo among wealthy shareholders, a vestige of WASP old-money values.

The everyday people you need to build a mass TV audience are though. They're being denied for no good reason in Ontario. (NBA games are on the sports lotteries in all four Western Canada provinces, but soccer isn't.) Government-run sports lotteries can also help fund athletics at the grass-roots level, and we all know Canada Basketball could use the help.

Yes, there are plenty of ways to bet that the Raptors will cover the 7.5-point spread in tonight's home opener vs. Philly or that Jose Calderon (pictured) will have more assists than the 76ers' Andre Miller. Pro-Line -- where, as its ads say, "anything can happen; anyone can win" -- is for everyday people. Of course, everyday people is a concept that's lost on MLSE.

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