When Rick Welts, the former Phoenix Suns exec, came out as gay, Nike executives asked him to send a message to "anyone thinking about becoming the first openly gay athlete in major U.S. team sports — the company wants him as an endorser," according to Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick, who talked to Welts, president of of the NBA's Golden State Warriors, this week.
“They made it clear to me Nike would embrace it,” Welts said. “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.”
In fact, several other sports sponsors and marketing strategists apparently agree with Welts. “We’ve passed the tipping point to where national advertisers are no longer afraid of the gay market,” said Mark Elderkin, Chief Executive Officer of the Gay Ad Network, told Bloomberg.
Bob Witeck, the gay marketing strategist, aggreed. He told Soshnick that the first openly gay team-sport athlete who is a major name will earn millions in endorsements and speaking engagements from companies who want to tap in to the U.S. LGBT buying power, which is estimated at $800 billion.
A bevy of athletic supporters, from billionaire Mark Cuban to PFLAG's Drew Tagliabue (whose father, Paul, is a former NFL commissioner) say Nike is making a smart move seeking the first major out gay athlete to endorse.“The companies are marketing to America,” said Tagliabue. “It’s a dollars issue.”
In addition this week, Red Sox manager John Farrell took the opportunity on Jackie Robinson Day to say a gay player was welcome on his team as well. "The one thing that we always look to establish here is an accepting environment," Farrell told MassLive.com. "Baseball to me without getting so philosophical, this is something that is – I don’t want to say a testing ground, but it reflects society in so many ways that you’ve got, whether it’s the color barrier broken down, you’ve got six or seven countries being represented and you come together a group of 25, you look to not only coexist but accept the individuality of every player that’s in there."
He went on to say that accepting a gay player "goes back to creating an environment that's accepting. There is going to be people from all walks of life, we respect the rights of every individual that walks into our clubhouse. The most important thing is that that respect is mutual and that we work towards a common goal, and our goal is clearly stated, and that's to win a World Series."