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The Creative Maple Leafs



The in-house team at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment live and die by their pro sports brands, giving them the unique position of creative stewards of some of the most popular teams in Canada



One of professional sports’ prototypical conglomerates, Toronto’s Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment owns four major league teams (the Toronto Maple Leafs, Raptors, Marlies and Toronto FC) alongside a host of associated brands such as TV stations, restaurants, stores and property. Since 2000, they’ve undergone a concerted effort to bolster their in-house creative capabilities. Starting with one print designer, the creative team now numbers 10, split evenly between print and digital specialists. If all goes well the 2010-11 season should mark the first one where all creative content will be produced in-house.

Exploring the in-house studio’s growing range of work, Dean Bender, creative director at MLSE, explains “I think all creative people want to reach out and be involved in as many creative projects as possible.” From broadcast graphics to digital signage, print advertising to season ticket packages, TV spots to branding, the creative team works on pretty much every possible creative category — an envious opportunity within the sometimes siloed world of in-house design.

Flexibility is a must for a pro sports creative team to have. Trades and injuries can wreak havoc on a carefully planned campaign, so the ability to change creative content on the fly is important for all members of the team.

“We build things modularly,” explains Bender. “If we put X player in an animation or in a print ad, we have to think about how we’d take them out. We never see anything as a full-year treatment. We’re always creating in a way that we can adjust easily.”

This versatility is further demonstrated as the studio hops back and forth between the different teams and associated fanbase mentalities, with each team requiring a different creative strategy. For example, the Maple Leafs recently focused on rivalries and communal spirit in response to the team’s lack of star talent, while the Raptors focused on key players, such as Andrea Bargnani and Chris Bosh. TFC, meanwhile, focuses on love for the game above all else, drawing on the fanbase’s strong loyalty to soccer around the world.

The in-house team also has to juggle creative for MLSE’s associated brand extensions. Their LeafsTV, RaptorsTV and GolTV television stations represent the bulk of their broadcast work, but MLSE’s interests in property management, retail stores and restaurants all demand creative attention as well. Recent efforts to attract new fans from the different cultural communities of Toronto has added yet another layer of complexity to the equation.

With the base set, the creative department is now planning to diversify even further by offering tailored creative services to their corporate clients. Recent television spots for Ford starring Raptors team leader and NBA superstar Chris Bosh were produced in-house, representing the first foray into their newer, alternative offerings.

As with any in-house creative department, MLSE is driven by the belief that they can represent their brands better than an outside agency could. As Bender explains, “By allowing our brands to be cultivated outside, we were allowing a creative team control that may not have the same ownership of the brand. By keeping it inside, we’re ensuring consistency with the creative team that lives the brands every day. We live it every day; it’s in our culture and it’s in our DNA.”




Kate Taylor

May 28, 2010 02:48 PM


As a Toronto FC season seat holder and a marketer, i have always been impressed with my ticket package each year. It's great to see the breadth and variety of projects the creative team at Maple Leaf Sports designs every year. Great story on a terrific in-house team.




May 28, 2010 03:03 PM


Love the creative. Very rad!



S. Rogan

May 28, 2010 03:36 PM


Not surprising at all... this group consistently turns out some of the most innovative creative I've seen in the industry. I've seen a lot of the things teams in other leagues have done in comparison. The sophistication in terms of the creative direction, style, and manner in which it integrates within each of their teams' respective overall season long creative platforms is what sets this group apart from the rest of the pack.

Nice job guys!




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