What Brands Can Learn From The Toronto Raptors No. 1 Fan

The NBA’s Toron­to Rap­tors have found a pow­er­ful mar­ket­ing asset in Nav Bha­tia. The team has used his super fan­dom to con­nect with the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Nav Bha­tia, the Toron­to Rap­tors’ offi­cial Super­fan, is a big pro­po­nent of uti­liz­ing extreme fan­dom as a cheap mar­ket­ing tool. He also advo­cates reach­ing out to dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties, such as young fans and fans from immi­grant pop­u­la­tions, to help cre­ate gen­er­a­tions of future super­fans.

It’s safe to say Nav Bha­tia real­ly likes the Toron­to Rap­tors.

Car deal­er­ship own­er by day, Bha­tia has also offi­cial­ly served as the Rap­tors’ “Super­fan” since 1998.

I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t wom­an­ize – I Rap­tor­ize,” Bha­tia said dur­ing a recent Adver­tis­ing Week pan­el.

Bha­tia is the first one to arrive at Rap­tors games and the last one to leave. He’s nev­er been late to a game or missed a game. In fact, he said he won’t attend a wed­ding, funer­al, or birth­day par­ty dur­ing bas­ket­ball sea­son.

For me, bas­ket­ball is every­thing,” Bha­tia said. And that holds true so much so that his entire sched­ule revolves around games dur­ing the NBA sea­son – and not, say, his busi­ness or wife.

I still think my wife is the very smart one,” Bha­tia said. “She hasn’t giv­en me a choice between the Rap­tors or the mar­riage because I think she knows the answer.”

Bha­tia described his com­mit­ment to the Rap­tors as an addic­tion, cit­ing a recent inter­view with the New York Times in which the reporter likened him to an addict who spends $300,000 a year on his habit.

And, in Bha­tia, the Rap­tors have found a pow­er­ful mar­ket­ing asset. For years, the team has used Bha­tia and his super fan­dom to help con­nect with the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty in the Toron­to area. And, Bha­tia said, oth­er teams and brands should fol­low the Rap­tors’ lead because he’s cer­tain­ly not the only poten­tial fan with dis­pos­able income.

I believe the South Asians are being ignored. They’re not on the radar,” Bha­tia said. “So I have to salute the Rap­tors, which use super­fans to make more fans, which is the cheap­est way. Rather than spend­ing mon­ey on mar­ket­ing, you make sure your sol­dier goes out [and recruits].”

Bha­tia said the Rap­tors have giv­en him an oppor­tu­ni­ty to show­case his com­mu­ni­ty and cel­e­bra­tions for var­i­ous Hin­du and Sikh fes­ti­vals, which include bring­ing thou­sands of under­priv­i­leged chil­dren to games.

These kids after 15 years, they come and buy tick­ets,” Bha­tia said. “The go out and love the sport and buy tick­ets.”

In oth­er words, tap­ping in to young fans can help cement legions of future super­fans.

The same is true of immi­grant pop­u­la­tions.

Bha­tia said the Rap­tors do a great job of reach­ing out to new pop­u­la­tions arriv­ing in the Toron­to area and are able to help new arrivals feel more at home while also ensur­ing a pas­sion­ate and more diverse fan base.

It’s not just, ‘Let them come,’” Bha­tia said. “No, they’re reach­ing out to us.”

This has not gone unno­ticed by oth­er teams.

Bha­tia said he has also con­nect­ed with the Brook­lyn Nets, whose direc­tor of pub­lic rela­tions came to him for help con­nect­ing to the 2 mil­lion South Asians in the New York area.

The Rap­tors have done a hell of a job,” Bha­tia said. “I wish oth­er teams would do that. We have mon­ey to spend on sports. You just have to reach out to us. It will get repeat­ed.”

Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, the con­nec­tion has had an added advan­tage for Bha­tia as well.

I do take care of a lot of Rap­tors play­ers with trans­porta­tion needs,” he added.

How do you think brands can bet­ter uti­lize their most pas­sion­ate fans and/or cre­ate new gen­er­a­tions of fans?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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