November 24, 2014  |  By  | 

24 RETAIL-MERCHANDISER.COM November/December 2014 COVER STORY Favorite Fan S kating across the ice and stopping on a dime, soar- ing above an opponent’s heads or a game-winning slam dunk – the physical prowess o proessional athletes seems almost otherworldly at times. And yet, the best sports teams connect with their ans in such a way that the ans don’t just eel like they are supporting the team, but are part o it. Perhaps that’s why the NBA’s oronto Raptors newest media campaign is titled “We Te North,” – efectively letting its ans know that although it is part o a league composed mainly o U.S.-based teams, the Raptors are proudly one with their ans. Te same goes or its sister teams playing in other leagues. Te oronto Raptors are part o a larger amily owned by Maple Leas Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), which also owns the NHL’s oronto Maple Leas, Major League Soccer’s oronto FC and the American Hockey League’s oronto Marlies. It also owns the arenas, stadi- ums and practice acilities where the teams play their home games and train – Air Canada Centre, Ricoh Coliseum, BMO Field and MasterCard Centre. Whether their teams are playing at home or away, in season or of season, MLSE’s ocus is on strengthening the relationship between the ans and their teams. What’s In Store? Tat was the motivation behind MLSE’s newest venture: Real Sports Apparel at Air Canada Centre. On Sept. 5, MLSE opened a 4,500-square-oot specialty retail store con- nected to Gate 1 at Air Canada Centre. Real Sports Apparel ofers the largest and most exclusive selection o Maple Leas, Raptors, oronto FC and Marlies gear and apparel, but because Air Canada Centre is the home arena o the Maple Leas and the Raptors, the store is particularly skewed toward those two teams and even more so on game days. “We wanted this to be a high-end retail store with all the elements that a customer would expect at a high-end retail store,” explains Jef Budway, director o merchandise and retail operations. “But the key point was in making the store incredibly transitional. We developed a concept where on nights when the Raptors play, the entire store would be Raptors and i the Leas played in the building the ollowing night, the entire store would be Maple Leas.” November/December 2014 RETAIL-MERCHANDISER.COM 25 MAPLE LEAFS SPORTS & ENTERTAINMENT MLSE engages its customers with new concepts, clothing lines and progressive technology that strengthens the relationship between teams and fans. BY JAMIE MORGAN Jef Budway, director o merchandise and retail operations Toronto, Ontario