This is an excerpt from Canadian Sport Marketing 3rd Edition With HKPropel Access by Norm O'Reilly,Benoit Seguin,Gashaw Abeza & Michael L. Naraine.
By Leah MacNab
Executive Perspective: The NBA Brand in Canada—Growing Equity
Leah MacNab, Managing Director, National Basketball Association (NBA) Canada
The NBA brand is synonymous with competitive, fun, fast-paced action, as well as global stars and our collective support of social justice. With a fan-first approach offering compelling live-game viewing experiences, the foundation of our brand is built upon core values, including respect, teamwork and innovation.
The NBA’s first game was played in Toronto between the New York Knickerbockers and the Toronto Huskies at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1946. Despite the league’s Canadian roots, the NBA didn’t see a rise in national popularity until 1995 as the Toronto Raptors and the Vancouver Grizzlies were added as expansion teams. Team identities took shape, fans familiarized themselves with this new league, and one player in particular left an indelible impact—Vince Carter. His electrifying play, amazing dunks, and commitment to the community put Toronto on the basketball map. At the time, only a handful of Canadians made it to the NBA, but a few—including Steve Nash—became household names. Fast-forward to the beginning of the 2019‐2020 season; 20 Canadians were on opening night rosters for NBA teams, and several of them cite Vince Carter as the inspiration for their dreams to play in the NBA.
The relocation of the Vancouver Grizzlies created an opportunity to work more closely with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), to position the Toronto Raptors as “Canada’s team.” Together, we broadcast all 82 regular season Raptors games nationally, and our partners TSN and Sportsnet air all NBA All-Star, Playoffs, and Finals games. This commitment to broadcasting basketball has no doubt impacted the huge increase in NBA fans from 1995 to present.
Our ultimate objective is to grow the number of NBA fans in the country while finding new ways to engage our core and casual fans. We produce new content for broadcast, NBA App, NBA.com, NBA Canada social media channels, and email on a daily basis. Every fan touchpoint is measured and analysed with the goal of better understanding our fan base and informing how we evolve content going forward.
In addition to content, we host NBA preseason games in markets outside of Toronto called NBA Canada Series presented by Bell. This enables us to bring fans into a live NBA atmosphere for an authentic game experience with friends and family. Through our marketing partners, we create unique fan activations including the NBA Playoff Bracket Challenge presented by Tangerine and sweepstakes offers on boxes of Post Cereals, increasing our brand’s exposure to new audiences.
Finally, to sustain our growth, we look to youth as our next generation of fans. The Jr. NBA Youth Basketball program introduces the fundamentals of basketball to children across the country thanks to coaches and training provided by Canada Basketball. We believe basketball teaches important life and leadership lessons as well as provides a sense of belonging for youth. These instructions are delivered in age- and stage-appropriate play-based settings.
The future of the NBA in Canada has never been brighter. Canadian talent will continue to shine on a global stage, and we are confident this will inspire even more youth to engage with the game.
As managing director of NBA Canada, Leah MacNab is responsible for the development and growth of the league’s business in Canada, including television and digital media, marketing and retail partnerships, licensing, special events, and basketball development. MacNab assumed the role in August 2019 following a record-setting year for NBA viewership, marketing partnerships, and merchandise sales in Canada.
In 2015, MacNab was promoted to NBA Canada’s senior director of global marketing partnerships, leading new business, strategy, and relationship management for the league’s marketing partners in Canada. She has played a significant role in the league’s biggest events in the country—including NBA Canada Series presented by Bell—and created the annual NBA Canada Partner Summit, which began in 2018 and brings together the league’s Canadian partners, executives, and industry thought-leaders. In 2018, MacNab received the Canadian Sports Business “5 to Watch” Award, recognizing her as one of the top sports executives in Canada under 40 years old.
MacNab sits on the Sponsorship Marketing Council Canada’s Steering Committee for Education. She is passionate about critical and creative thinking, marketing, women’s empowerment, and food. A graduate of the University of Toronto, MacNab also has a postgraduate marketing certificate from Ryerson University.