Nike Plans to Support 1st Gay Pro Team Athlete
After then-Phoenix Suns executive Rick Welts came out in 2011, Nike officials asked him to tell anyone who was considering becoming the first openly gay professional athlete in a major U.S. team sport, that Nike would like to endorse them.
"They made it clear to me Nike would embrace it," Welts, 60, who is now the president of the National Basketball Association’s Golden State Warriors, told Bloomberg. "The player who does it, they’re going to be amazed at the additional opportunities that are put on the table, not the ones that are taken off."
Bob Witeck, a gay-marketing strategist and corporate consultant, believes the first openly gay professional athlete on a team sport could earn millions in endorsements and speaking engagements from companies that want to capitalize on the LGBT community. Witeck has estimated LGBT annual buying power is nearly $800 billion.
"We’ve passed the tipping point to where national advertisers are no longer afraid of the gay market," added Mark Elderkin, chief executive officer of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Gay Ad Network.
A number of companies have used pro-gay advertisements over the years, including American Airlines, Macy’s, Ikea and Amazon. American Airlines, which has employed Witeck as a consultant for two decades, created a gay-targeted sales group in the mid-’90s.
Nike, the world’s largest sporting-goods company, may be trying to appeal to the LGBT community to generate some buzz in order to stay relevant.
As the New York Times reports, critics and the public once embraced Nike’s ads. In recent years, however, Nike "has had a harder time standing out amid the clutter, brining out fewer ads that are wildly deemed hot, or cool."
Nike’s officials aren’t the only ones on the lookout for an openly gay professional athlete. Last week, officials from the National Hockey League announced that they are working with the You Can Play Project, an LGBT organization that promotes equality in sports. The two groups want to train and counsel athletes on gay issues and participate in public service announcements.