For gay athletes, sponsorship may be just around the corner

Mon Apr 29, 2013 8:06pm EDT
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By Atossa Araxia Abrahamian

NEW YORK, April 29 (Reuters) - Jason Collins decision to come out as an openly gay male athlete will serve as a test case for U.S. sports leagues, his future teammates and fans.

Not to mention Madison Avenue.

Collins, a veteran center in the National Basketball Association (NBA), on Monday became the first male athlete active in a major U.S. team sport to reveal himself as gay, a moment that could be a watershed for advertisers.

Backing an openly gay male athlete with an endorsement deal is not without risk for corporate marketers who are due to spend an estimated $20 billion this year on sports sponsorships, pitching shoes, beer and cars to consumers who have varying views on gay rights.

Nike, for one, was quick to offer support. "We admire Jason's courage and are proud that he is a Nike athlete. Nike believes in a level playing field where an athlete's sexual orientation is not a consideration," the sports apparel and shoe company said in a statement.

A Nike spokesman said the company does not discuss the details of its contracts with athletes.

Other companies could also be supportive, given the huge marketing opportunity presented by a gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual community that contributes $790 billion annually in spending to the U.S. economy, according to Bo Witeck, a gay-marketing strategist and corporate consultant.

As the first openly gay NBA player, Collins, 34, is likely to receive attention from sponsors looking to tap into that demographic, although it remains to be seen where, or if, he will play next season. Collins played last season with the Boston Celtics and then the Washington Wizards and is currently a free agent.   Continued...