Excitement over the Toronto Raptors' NBA Finals run is great news for bars across the country, but experts say the moment is an invaluable marketing opportunity for Toronto that could provide a substantial long-term economic boost to the region.
The championship run has already proven to be a boon for watering holes as people gather to take in the games with other fans.
"It's interesting if I'm sitting at home watching it. It's exciting if I'm sitting in a bar with 200 of my best new friends watching a game," said Jeff Guthrie, chief marketing officer at payments firm Moneris.
The company found that spending at bars in the Greater Toronto Area was up 72 per cent for Game 2 last Sunday against the Golden State Warriors, compared with the same day last year. At its peak, spending was up 183 per cent at 10 p.m. Eastern time during the game.
Nationally, spending at bars jumped 28 per cent on the day of Game 2, and was up 89 per cent at the peak.
"It really shows that the Raptors are Canada's team," said Guthrie.
And while Moneris focused on bar tabs, the boost around game spending will be felt more broadly, said Hannah Holmes, assistant professor of economics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont.
"You're going to see sales at bars go up, you're going to see hotel room bookings increase, people coming in from out of town. You're going to see increased revenue for transportation."
However, the increased spending isn't necessarily boosting the overall economy, since the money is often being diverted from other local spending.
"Money that may have been spent elsewhere like going to the movies or something like that, now's being redirected. So it's not new spending," said Holmes.
"Where you make money is when you have new money coming in, when you get tourists coming in and spending money, that's an injection into local economies."
Tourism Toronto is hoping the team's run will translate into a longer-term economic boost, along with some changed perceptions about the city.
Available data suggests some additional economic activity, with Airbnb saying guest arrivals were up 25 per cent for Game 1 compared with last year, while Tourism Toronto says hotel occupancy rates were up seven per cent.
"Over the long run, this is a tremendous exposure opportunity for Toronto," said Andrew Weir, executive vice president at Tourism Toronto.
"Toronto's well-known to many people. But there's still a lot of people in the U.S. and elsewhere that don't know the city too well, and associate it with the cold of Canada, and perhaps think it's more of a mid-sized city."
The NBA championship run is a way to showcase Toronto at its best to what's become an increasingly global NBA audience in countries like China, Brazil, Mexico and the U.K., said Weir.
"The NBA is a pop-culture phenomenon, and it's part of the global conversation. That puts Toronto squarely in that global conversation."
The exposure would help attract future conferences and travellers, which could have a bigger impact than the Raptors games themselves.
While game one saw the seven per cent boost in occupancy, the big Collision technology conference a week earlier helped boost occupancy by 29 per cent compared with last year.
The city will have a big opportunity to attract more big events when it hosts a major conference of meeting planners that could overlap game six and seven, if the series goes that far, said Weir.
"Right now Toronto's riding a high, so that helps us secure more wins in other areas, because people want to be associated with that, it's a place people are interested in visiting."
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