With ‘Mad Love,’ Canada Basketball showcases the dedication of women in sports

Who: Canada Basketball with MLSE and Sid Lee.

What: “Mad Love,” a new platform and rallying cry for female athletes, both in basketball and the broader sports world. It’s the result of a longstanding relationship between Sid Lee and Canada Basketball.

When & Where: Originally intended to run during the lead-up to the postponed 2020 Tokyo Games, the campaign debuted on International Women’s Day. It’s anchored by a 60-second ad running across Sportsnet and NBA TV for the next six weeks, complemented by ads on Canada Basketball’s social channels and a poster campaign centred around downtown Toronto, Scotiabank Arena and BMO Field. MLSE will also feature the “Mad Love” film in an upcoming virtual event celebrating Gender Equality Month on March 30.

Why: Canada Basketball describes the campaign as an effort to encourage young women to pursue athletics and “inspire and rally Canadians together for female athletes in basketball and beyond.” Women’s sports have traditionally been overshadowed by men’s: women’s basketball, for example, didn’t make its Olympics debut until 1976, 40 years after men’s basketball.

According to Canada Basketball, there has also been an “alarming” decline in participation in sports among adolescent girls in recent years, with a 22% difference between girls 15-18 and those aged 9-11. The recent Rally Report by Canadian Women & Sport shows that if a girl doesn’t participate in sports by the age of 10, there is only a 10% chance she’ll be physically active by the time she’s 25.

Priya Mistry, a designer with Sid Lee and a creative on the project, said her hope is for “Mad Love” to become as beloved a rallying cry and visual identity as “We the North” (another Sid Lee initiative) has been for the Toronto Raptors. “[We want it to be] something that will become part of the culture, that people can wear proudly on their T-shirt and join a collective that feels more like a community that’s rallying behind female athletes and fighting for gender equality, not only in athletics but all sectors,” she said.

How: Shot in Santiago, Chile pre-pandemic (with historic library footage of Canadian women competing in basketball, soccer and hockey), the spot opens on a young girl and boy racing across a field, with the boy playfully pushing the girl aside in an attempt to gain an edge.

That little shove becomes representative of the divergent path that women have to take to pursue their “mad love” of sports, said Mistry.

Set to the Nina Simone song “Ain’t got no, I got life,” the spot features a montage of images that are a staple of sports advertising, from early morning workouts on an empty court, to taking an ice bath to soothe aching muscles. But the spot also highlights the unique obstacles faced by women, such as training while caring for an infant or being the lone female in a pick-up basketball game.

“It’s that grit, that sweat, that falling down and getting back up, so we said we were going to do that for women, because they go through the same thing, except with a kid on their arm,” said Mistry. “It was really about showcasing the good and the bad and the perseverance and adversity that goes into ‘Mad Love.'”

The spot ends with a super reading “It takes more than love” before a series of stylized scribblings of the words “Mad Love” that Mistry says were inspired by a series of hand-written letters to Canadian athletes provided by Basketball Canada. “I just started writing the words “mad love” over and over again,” says Mistry. “It felt like a lot of different women were writing it, and it just looked like a community of mad love coming alive on my page.”

And we quote: “The greatest female athletes have persevered [over] adversity with mad love, rising above their circumstances with conviction. But, for every professional female athlete, many women never get an equal opportunity to play a fair game. It’s time to change the rules so that every girl with a love for the game can play without prejudice, injustice or inequality.” — Kia Nurse, WNBA all-star and member of Canada’s senior women’s national team

Chris Powell