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?