When Billie Jean King, the heralded 70’s and 80’s tennis icon came out in 1981, she lost millions of dollars in sponsorships overnight.  Martina Navratilova, another tennis star, said she was told not to come out or suffer the loss of sponsorships as well.   Olympic gold medalist in diving, Greg Louganis, told CNNMoney he was told to “tone down the gay thing” by a talent agency in the early 80s.  He feels being gay and HIV positive cost him endorsements and opportunities.

Times have changed.  Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics showed brands embracing openly LGBTQ athletes.  They are capturing social media buzz, and becoming mentors, role models and spokespeople on various topics from politics, gay rights and relationships.  Has your brand leveraged the leadership of LGBTQ athletes?

This isn’t the first we’re observing openly LGBTQ athletes; however, this year was a record number for the Winter Olympics.  OutSports.com reports 56 openly LGBTQ Olympians at the 2014 Summer Olympics, however, this year, 15 openly gay athletes competed at Pyeongchang, with representation from United States of American, Sweden, Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Canada.

Canada’s Eric Radford, and USA’s Gus Kenworthy and Adam Rippon draw attention not just from their audience, but from media and politicians more so than ever.   Eric Radford is the first openly gay male athlete to win gold at the Winter Olympics (British figure skater John Curry won gold in 1976 but was outed involuntarily).  Adam Rippon helped his figure skating team win bronze.

Adam Rippon declined a meeting with Vice President of the USA, Mike Pence, noting his stance on LGBTQ issues.  Gus Kenworthy tweeted a photo of Adam and himself together, “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it.” This tweet received almost 200K likes and 37K reshares.  There were supportive tweets to the LGBTQ athletes from celebrities.  And then there was “The Kiss,” a moment on live TV when Gus Kenworthy kissed his partner.  This moment was reshared across social media and news outlets.

Gus Kenworthy, in his second Olympics competition, has racked up endorsements by brands that are eager to position themselves around diversity.  P&G, a major Olympic sponsor, created spots and memorable moments with Gus like the “Love Over Bias” and “Love, Mom” longform video (tissue please!).  Gus has also attracted endorsers and partners like Xfinity, United, Atomic Skis, Smith Optics, Nike, MeUndies Deloitte, Visa for the Games and Ralph Lauren.  Rippon, much newer to the stage, declined to comment to NBC after he finished competing, choosing to support his teammates.

P&G Head & Shoulders “Shoulders of Greatness” with Gus Kenworthy

P&G “Love Over Bias” with Gus Kenworthy

P&G, “Love Mom” with Gus Kenworthy and his mom

Xfinity, Gus Kenworthy

For brands who may not have a large budget, there are incredible ways to integrate sports into LGBTQ campaigns.  There are worldwide opportunities (Gay Games), national opportunities (Gay Softball World Series), and local LGBTQ leagues drawing thousands of players and supporters.

Need help brainstorming? Let’s work together to figure out how you can incorporate athletics into your LGBTQ campaigns.  Reach out to joel@motivateroi.com.

Sources: WTVA, Out Sports