Since the first gay games in 1982, athletes and sports lovers have flocked to destinations around the world for the big event, bringing an influx of cash from spectators, athletes, and sponsors. However the financial hangovers from the games in New York in 1994, Amsterdam in 1998, and Sydney, Australia, in 2002 have taken some of the shine off the organization’s reputation in recent years.
All eyes are now on 2014 host city Cleveland, where a lawsuit by the Cleveland Synergy Foundation, which did the legwork to win the bid, is already raising concerns that the upcoming games are headed for trouble. The Federation of Gay Games had revoked the foundation’s license to operate the games, claimed it was in breach of contact, and insisted that an alternate group be created to run the event. The suit is in the process of being settled, and a successor, the Cleveland Special Events Corp., has been named to orchestrate the event.
Outsports editor Cyd Zeigler sees the change as a smart decision, because, he says, the organization campaigning for the bid won’t necessarily be the best at executing the Gay Games. Gay Games IX administrator Tom Nobbe says the event will be the biggest athletics competition Cleveland has ever seen, with 13,000 participants, 34 sporting categories, and thousands of fans. Nobbe notes that the city is more affordable than some other locales, and past events like NCAA basketball tournaments and the Continental Cup have proved that Cleveland is capable of hosting a massive convergence of visitors and several simultaneous tournaments.
In 2006 two examples of how such a massive gay sporting contest can be organized emerged in two rival events. The Gay Games Chicago was conservative in scope and was pared down to a simple celebration of sport, without the extravagant parties and opening ceremonies rivaling those of the Olympic games, and it broke even. Outgames Montreal took the wild abandon approach, creating what Zeigler calls “the most amazing event you could have possibly done. There were parties all over the whole city. Entire streets were blocked off for events.” Outgames, however, accumulated a $4.3 million debt.
“The financial future of the Gay Games is about who is involved in organizing it,” Zeigler says. “Do they stick to a real budget or aim pie-in-the-sky, budget be damned?”
Nobbe says the event’s multimillion-dollar budget has yet to be finalized, as the Cleveland Special Events Corp. is transitioning into its role as the games’ facilitator. But Zeigler says in the end, it’s less about profits than about putting on the best celebration of sport.
“This is a lot like the Olympics,” he says. “The Olympics never makes money. In fact, they typically overspend.”