How Tangerine struck gold with its Raptors sponsorship

With year one of its 20-year sponsorship deal as Official Bank of the Toronto Raptors coming to a close, online banking brand Tangerine could be forgiven for entertaining thoughts—or maybe even concerns—about having to come up with a repeat.

The online banking brand’s inaugural season as Raptors sponsor—part of the eye-popping $800 million deal with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment undertaken by its parent company, Scotiabank—has been every sponsor’s dream.

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At the outset, Scotiabank’s association with the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team many regarded as a legitimate contender for a Stanley Cup in a hockey-mad country, might have been regarded as the deal’s crown jewel.

But in addition to a younger, more culturally diverse fan-base, the 2018-19 edition of the Raptors has brought Tangerine something the Leafs have failed to deliver in almost two decades—playoff excitement.

“It’s absolutely momentous, for sure,” says Gillian Riley, who succeeded Brenda Rideout as Tangerine’s president and CEO in December. “What a great time for us to be part of this magic.

“Both brands are getting amazing prominence and profile because of the playoffs,” she continues. “Scotiabank Arena gets mentioned all the time, and Tangerine is doing these interesting ads that people are remembering.”

Speaking at the American Marketing Association’s annual CMO Breakfast on Wednesday, Scotiabank’s chief marketing officer Clinton Braganza said the sponsorship deal was primarily intended to protect the parent brand’s reputation as “Canada’s hockey bank.” The Raptors’ playoff run, however, is helping establish Tangerine as Canada’s basketball bank.

“What the last six weeks have taught us is that winning changes everything,” said Braganza. “We’re seeing [fan interest] that is beyond the Super Bowl. It’s hockey-like. Nobody predicted this kind of passion, both across Canada and globally, around this special run.”

The Raptors’ remarkable playoff run is ensuring that Tangerine’s TV commercials—which typically number between three and four per game—are seen by millions of people (Monday night’s game 5, shown on Sportsnet and Citytv, reached 13.4 million people, making it the 21st most-watched sports event in Canada), all complemented by a host of other brand activations.

That includes signage in the outside viewing area known as “Jurassic Park,” where crowds of up to 5,000 people clamour for Tangerine branded “rally towels” and lucky spectators are plucked out of the audience to watch the game from the Tangerine suite inside Scotiabank Arena.

The arena itself, meanwhile, is home to the “Tangerine Block Party,” where merchandise including T-shirts are “parachuted” into the crowd. Digital boards throughout the city are also regularly updated with game day specific messaging, while the @TangerineHoops account on Twitter and Instagram is also a popular destination for fans.

All of this activity has contributed to a 50% spike in traffic to the Tangerine website and a 20% increase in customer sign-ups in the immediate wake of Raptors game days, said Riley, adding that she expects a significant increase in customer activations once the playoffs are over. “The busy time will be in activating all of those customers in the queue,” she says.

Roger Breum, director of marketing for the San Diego-based sponsorship analytics and valuation company Hookit, says that longer playoffs runs, not surprisingly, mean more exposure and fan engagement for sponsors.

While Hookit doesn’t have specific metrics for Tangerine, he says that the Raptors have mentioned another of their sponsors, insurance brand Aviva, 35 times on social media since the start of the playoffs, leading to 650,000 fan engagements.

The Golden State Warriors, meanwhile, have mentioned their sponsor Kaiser Permanente 41 times on social since the playoffs began, driving 3.4 million fan engagements on those posts.

“The benefits of a team staying in the playoffs are clear for sponsors,” says Breum. “The playoff period extends the exposure period and typically during playoff times, fans are more engaged with team content.

“This extra time and higher engagement rate gives the team more chances to share the brand messages of their partners with improved impact for the brand. The whole system benefits from a long playoff run, from the fans to the team and the sponsors.”

Riley points to a “strong overlap” between Raptors fans and Tangerine—a youthful, online-only brand—as key elements of the sponsorship, with one-third of its customers identifying as fans of the team. “It makes the synergies that much better,” she says.

Tangerine also sees an opportunity to further grow its customer base via its sponsorship activity. “We get national reach with the only basketball team in the country,” she says. “We’re going way beyond the reach of our customer base.”

While it’s hard to isolate the impact of the Raptors sponsorship, Riley says that consumer awareness of the Tangerine brand has risen from 6% at the start of the season to nearly 40% as the season progressed. “For sure during the playoffs we’ve gone up much higher than that,” says Riley. “The association has been brilliant.”

In some ways, it’s the sponsorship equivalent of “nothing but net.”

Chris Powell