Is Toronto A Small Market Team?

Posted on July 31, 2009 | 6 Comments

Austin Burton, of Slam Magazine, just wrote an article where he says that, despite the size of the city, when it comes to professional sports, Toronto is a small market city.  He talks about the number of times the Raptors have been on US television and how popular the franchise player, Chris Bosh is, as proof.  I agree and disagree with him.

The main ammunition for some Toronto fans when calling the owners cheap, is that they don’t spend like they are the 4th largest market in the league, which they technically are (behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago). A few problems with that. The first is the exchange rate and corporate tax. The Raptors pay out mostly in American dollars, but get most of their money in Canadian. When the exchange rate is at par, it’s no problem, but for the 99.9999% of the time it isn’t, that means the Raptors are essentially paying more on the dollar than every other team. The high Canadian corporate tax rate also hurts the bottom line.

As for the population base, Toronto is technically the fourth largest market, but that’s only when the actual city population is looked at.  When looking at the metropolitan population, Toronto suddenly drops to 7th, behind Dallas, Philadelphia and Houston, and just ahead of Miami, Atlanta and Washington.

Of course, the writer wasn’t talking about economics or population bases.  He was talking about something else. And this is where I have the problem. See, the writer, I’m guessing, is American. And without getting into any American bashing, some Americans tend not to see the big picture a lot of times. The writer talks about how Bosh is less popular than Chris Paul and Ray Allen only because he plays for the Raptors. In Canada. Flawed logic, to say the least. Firstly, it’s debatable whether Ray Allen, who’s been in a Spike Lee movie, has a championship ring and played in way more playoff games than Bosh, is even more popular.

Only once, since Bosh became an All-Star, has Ray Allen gotten more votes than him, and that was the Celtics Championship season when they were the talk of the league. Yes, Allen sells more jerseys, but that also probably has to do with his Championship ring than where he plays. Boston is not a large market team, but they have a vaunted history behind them. The Raptors do not.

Chris Paul has been on the NBA 1st and 2nd team the last two years, and finished second in MVP voting two years ago. He’s a 6 foot-nothing point guard who is exciting to watch, partially because he is so small, yet rebounds and plays much bigger. He’s a better player than Bosh and had a huge playoffs during his best season, two seasons ago, when his team pushed San Antonio to the brink in the second round. Playoffs make a player, in the NBA. Ask Trevor Ariza.

Secondly, if Chris Bosh is less popular than the writer perceives he should be, it might have to do with Bosh himself. Yes, Bosh is friendly, accessible and tries to make himself as visible as possible through the internet, but his game, or image, is not typical of a popular player. He doesn’t have an edge and fire of an Iverson or Garnett. He isn’t a high flying skywalker like Dwight Howard, LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. And he does not have an exciting, small guy playing with the big boys, game like Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade or even Nate Robinson. Bosh is a relatively skinny, jumpshooting big man who, despite being quick and athletic, doesn’t play above the rim much. Plus, he’s not an overly emotional player on the court, which fans love to see. Even Raptors fans have talked about how boring the guy is. If even your own team’s fans aren’t thrilled about watching a player, why would other team’s fans be?

The problem here, however, is that the writer of the article is looking through his very narrow American view of things.  The Raptors and Chris Bosh are not popular in the US, so they are not popular. Many Americans might be surprised that an entire world goes on outside of the US. Colangelo, despite being an American, has figured this out. He’s figured out that Americans, in general, don’t particularly like anything that’s not American, and have trouble seeing outside of their borders, so he has taken a global view. Will it make the Raptors more popular in the US? No. And no one should really care. When the Raptors make the playoffs this year, as they will hopefully and should do, it’s a good bet the Raptors popularity in Europe will skyrocket. Already, Bargnani jerseys are apparently the 10th best selling jersey in Europe. The Raptors are currently `Canada’s team’, and are soon to be `Europe’s team’, too. I wouldn’t particularly call that small market.

All that doesn’t necessarily mean that writers like Austin Burton will get his head out of his ass long enough to realize the world doesn’t end at the US border, but since he’s a writer in another country, I guess I shouldn’t care.

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Join the discussion: 6 Comments


  • Sad

    Well written and sound. Nice of you to include some figures and reasoning. A few notes:

    1) The size of Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington can be misleading. For example, one could extend Philly’s boundaries to New Jersey which is where most of their sub urbs are located. Even with that, they had a much lower attendance record than the Raptors and so did the Wizards.

    2) What do you think of this pre conceived notion that Bosh will just bolt? Has he indicated in anyway that he wants to leave or has ever had a problem being a Raptor? He did already sign an extension he did not have to sign.

  • Tim W.


    Thanks. One thing I didn’t mention is how prevalent Raptor fans are on the internet. It’s really hard to get any hard facts, but the two teams that seemed to be most represented on most Basketball forums are Laker and Raptor fans.

    As for Bosh bolting, I’m not surprised at the notion that most of the American media are convinced he’s leaving. It’s the narrow view of things I mentioned. OF COURSE, he’s going to go to Miami or New York. He’s American. Why would an American live in Canada if they didn’t have to?

    Really, I don’t think anyone, including Bosh, knows whether he’s going to leave. I think it’s a lot more likely he’ll re-sign now than a month ago. I mean, if Colangelo had ANY indication that Bosh was going to leave, he’d have been traded. If Colangelo has shown one thing, it’s that he’s not afraid to pull the trigger.

  • J

    Honestly, American media only have two topics to write about when it comes to the Raptors: 1) the Raptors’ star player leaving, and 2) BC’s European experiment. They never made such a big deal when San Antonio or Sacremento had a large number of Europeans, but during an off-season where (until the recent Belinelli trade) five non-Europeans were added (Jack, Evans, George, Wright, DeRozan) two more were retained (Douby and O’Bryant), versus the two of Turkoglu and Nesterovic, of course the spotlight would be on the Europeans. Never mind that the Europeans can play, of course.

    As for our supposed disproportionate spending compared to our market size, honestly that’s bull too. Seems like fans forget that having the highest salary in the league doesn’t mean you’re a winner; it means you’re the (old) New York Knicks. If there’s ever a time when the Raptors are on the fence about whether or not to keep or acquire a hefty contract (like if Toronto fans actually *wanted* to keep Bosh and Toronto ownership said no), then I’ll join the bandwagon strike outside MLSE headquarters (in spirit). But up til now, the Raptors have had a pretty good track record in going after players or keeping their own. Especially if you believe what people say about players not wanting to be in Toronto. But alas, fans just want to see spending for the sake of spending, even if it means cutting a bunch of minimum salary players and adding on some new minimum salary contracts just to get ahead of other teams on dollars spent. Not very cap smart.

  • Tim W.

    The American media is a funny thing. One just has to look back at the first few years of the Iraq was to see how myopic they can be. One of their biggest strengths (their large population and size) is also one of their biggest weaknesses. It allows them to isolate themselves from the rest of the world, which can be dangerous. Smaller countries necessarily have to look outside their own borders, but most Americans never travel outside of their own country, so they never have to deal with other cultures and understand other people.

    I mean, how many of these American sportswriters have even BEEN to Toronto? Marc Stein is one of the few American sports writers I’ve read that talks about Toronto in glowing terms. He’s even said that if ESPN opened an office in Toronto, he’d be the first to apply to go there. He’s an incredibly rare breed, however.

    As for Toronto spending, I find it perplexing that fans feel that Toronto needs to spend so much money. There’s never been a strong correlation between spending and winning. And generally, the contenders who are among the highest spenders didn’t get there because they spent. They spent after they got there. A perfect example is Orlando. Orlando was well under the tax threshold until they made the Finals. Now that they are legit contenders, they are spending money. Its not the other way around. The Raptors are actually spending LESS than last season, but will probably be a much better team.

  • Ann

    Thank you for the great post. Ann

  • Stephen Waugh

    I don’t think that either of the Leafs or Raptors GMs wanted to rebuild when they first came. Like Brian Burke, I think the root of the problem with Bryan Colangelo is that he was too confident in what his old team had accomplished. He came off a high from his former team and preferred to re-create the same success rather than build new success. I believe that both wanted to be who they were on their former teams and then expect Toronto to naturally adjust to them when possessing much different sporting dynamics than the cities they were in.

    One difference between the two GMs however is that I will give Brian Burke the benefit of the doubt for entering a much worse situation in the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were a real bad team with players who were past their prime or untalented and had little promise for the future in their farm system. It’s easy for fans to blame the GMs (Colangelo’s is much more deserved), but if best-case scenario according Tony Irwin had happened, I wonder if Chris Bosh would have had a place. While Bosh and Aldridge were better players and a potentially more exciting duo, I don’t think that either would be a good fit at centre. I don’t know if they could even fit together. The easy choice was to keep Chris Bosh when in hindsight, the smart choice may have been to trade Chris Bosh in 2006 no matter what.

    If both GMs had committed to rebuilding from the start, the Raptors would be a playoff team, I doubt the Leafs would be, although they would have more blue-chip talent in their system.

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