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Work begins in earnest in Toronto after MLSE takes NBA all-star torch

02/18/2015 01:51 EST | Updated 04/20/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - The NBA all-star game will venture outside the United States for the first time when Toronto hosts the basketball spectacle next year.

But don't expect "Mounties and maple syrup," says Dave Hopkinson, the chief commercial officer for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

Hopkinson was among some 60 MLSE representatives who spent last weekend taking notes in New York, before the NBA brings its glitzy star-studded celebration of the game here next year.

"We've got an ambition here, that we're going to have the world's eyes on Toronto and the world's eyes on Canada," Hopkinson said. "We understand that we've got to put the city and the country's best foot forward. So while we're going to be doing a very Canadian-inspired, a Canadian-themed party here for the world to come to, it's not going to be. . . kitsch.

"This is a big, beautiful city, the most immigrated-to city in the world, people have come from all over the world to become Torontonians, and that's what we're really looking to celebrate is a global game to a global audience in a big and globally important city."

With the Raptors on the rise, and young stars like Andrew Wiggins helping turn Toronto into one of the top producers of talent, the timing of next year's game couldn't be "more fortuitous," Hopkinson said.

"Across the board, the resurgence of the Raptors, it's star power like Drake, it's a marketing campaign like We The North, it's a team that is on track to set a franchise record for wins, it's Kyle Lowry as an all-star, after last year with DeMar DeRozan as an all-star. . . it's Wiggins, and it's (all 12) Canadians playing in the NBA. It's amazing."

Last week's all-star activities had a US$200-million economic impact on the Big Apple. Some 166,000 people attended all-star events, including more than 1,800 credentialed media with a record 534 international journalists. And NBA Cares hosted 100 basketball clinics — 20 for each of New York's five boroughs — on NBA Fit Friday.

And the Raptors want to go one better.

The 60-member group that travelled to New York included individuals who work in everything from transportation and security, to event operations and game entertainment.

Toronto's 20-member all-star steering committee includes Cameron Bailey, the artistic director for the Toronto International Film Festival, Kirstine Stewart of Twitter Media and Canada Goose president and CEO Dani Reiss.

"(They're) really smart, sophisticated leaders that will help us pull off the best event ever," Hopkinson said. "You only really get one chance at this right? So we absolutely have to exceed expectations across the board. There is no warmup, there's no pre-season, there's no second crack at it, you get to do this once."

New York was in a deep freeze last week that saw some of the chilliest temperatures in decades. With the game making stops in sunny cities like Houston, Orlando, New Orleans and Los Angeles over the past few years, New York was a bitterly cold all-star experience. But the city still pulled it off.

"Brutal weather," Hopkinson said. "When I came back, the first thing I say to Tim (Leiweke, president and CEO of MLSE), is 'What they have proven is you can have brutally cold weather and a successful all-star game.' So in fact I found that quite reassuring."

MLSE hosted a passing of the all-star torch party on Sunday night at the Ganzevoort Park Avenue. Mark Ronson — of "Uptown Funk" fame — was the deejay.

"It was the THE party to be at the entire weekend," Hopkinson said. "We're really communicating to the NBA that we understand that we've got to put the city and the country's best foot forward."

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