May 01, 2013 at 02:52 PM
written by Adam Grossman

Is Jason Collins Coming Into Big Money?

Gay professional athletes have many reasons why they would be fearful of disclosing their sexuality publicly. In the past, conventional thinking was that this would cost athletes a significant amount of money. In particular, sports organizations and sponsors were thought to be unlikely to sign an openly gay player.

Jason Collins’ disclosure appears to have actually caused the opposite reaction. Rather than cost him money, Collins stands to earn millions of dollars.

Early in his recent Sports Illustrated article where he announced he was gay, Collins asks readers and NBA players if they “ever heard of a parlor game called Three Degrees of Jason Collins?” Collins uses the question in part to highlight how long and for how many teams he has played during his 12-year NBA career. The downside is that it shows that Collins is coming towards the end of his career. As a free agent this summer, given his age and lack of offensive production, it was a possibility that Collins would not have been offered another NBA contract.

That possibility, though, now seems to have declined significantly. In addition to being a serviceable backup post player, Collins would provide any team with the chance to make inroads with gay sports fans – a very lucrative untapped market for sports teams. Despite comprising just 6.8 percent of the American population, the buying power of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people was “projected” to be $743 billion, according to Harris Interactive and Witeck-Combs Communication. Gay, lesbian, and transgender audiences are being aggressively targeted by hotel, travel and restaurant companies that compete with sports organizations for leisure spending.

These numbers strongly suggest that Collins is likely to make more money both for his team and for himself off the court as well as companies test the economic power of identity marketing. Identity marketing stems from the notion that consumers best respond to other people who share the same characteristics – race, gender, sexuality, etc. It seems natural that some sponsors will bank on a gay athlete being better suited to reach people who care about issues of equality – whether straight, gay, or transgender – than someone who is not gay. According to Mark Cuban, “From a marketing perspective, if you’re a player who happens to be gay and you want to be incredibly rich, then you should come out, because it would be the best thing that ever happened to you from a marketing and an endorsement perspective.”

Sponsors already appear to believe that identity marketing will play a large role in targeting gay, lesbian, and transgender fans. According to the NY Post, “Golden State Warriors president Rick Welts - who came out two years ago himself - told Bloomberg News earlier this month that Nike officials made it clear to him in a recent meeting that they would fully embrace the first gay athlete in major sport.” In addition, sponsors will be happy to see that on the day after Sports Illustrated article was published, Collins jersey sales composed “100 percent of custom jerseys ordered from the [Wizards’] online store.”

Prior to this week, Jason Collins was far from the list of the best-known NBA players. Now, he is near the top and has the potential to earn significant sponsorship and endorsement revenue. It is not clear, however, whether Collins can monetize his identity marketing potential as a potential ambassador for all gay athletes in the longer-team. The answer to his viability as identity marketing question will have millions of sponsorship dollars potentially at stake. For now, what is clear is that Collins exhibited a significant amount of courage by becoming the first openly gay athlete. Cashing in on this courage is a well-earned reward.

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