*The WNBA is about to show the world that they have indeed tapped in to a prominent portion of their fan base. The association will be the first pro league to specifically recruit gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered fans to its games, and they plan to launch a campaign to that effect soon.
The campaign will have the WNBA capitalizing on something they have known for years: That the LGBT community makes up a significant portion of its fan base. In recognition of this and in appreciation for it, the league is talking about it publicly and making it a deliberate part of its marketing strategy.
The effort, which began with the launch of a website on Wednesday, will have teams participate in local pride festivals and parades, work with advocacy groups to raise awareness of inclusion through grassroots events, and advertise with lesbian media. A nationally televised pride game will take place between Tulsa and Chicago on Sunday, June 22. All 12 teams will also have some sort of pride initiative over the course of the season.
“For us it’s a celebration of diversity and inclusion and recognition of an audience that has been with us very passionately,” WNBA President Laurel Richie said. “This is one of those moments in the ‘W’ where everybody comes together.”
It’s taken the league 18 years to take the step, though it had discussions about the possibility previously. Teams have done some promotion locally, sponsoring booths at gay pride events and hosting groups at games.
“We embrace all our fans, and it’s a group that we know has been very, very supportive. I won’t characterize it as ‘Why did it take so long?’ For me, it’s been we’ve been doing a lot of terrific initiatives. The piece that’s different this year is unifying it,” she said.
The decision to add this specific campaign to their marketing strategy came in 2012, when the WNBA took a close look at its fan base and commissioned a study which revealed that 25 percent of lesbians watch the league’s games on TV while 21 percent have attended a game.
Rick Welts, who was the executive vice president and chief marketing officer of the NBA when the WNBA first started in 1997, said that when the league began, executives figured the fan base would be a carryover from the NBA.
“We guessed very wrong on that,” said Welts, who is the president and COO of the Golden State Warriors and became the highest ranking executive in men’s sports to publicly acknowledge he’s gay in 2011. “Maybe we should have known better. I think from its outset, the WNBA attracted fans with different interests than our profile of an NBA fan.
“I remember sitting in a few meetings where we had really interesting thoughtful discussions of: Should we be proactive marketing to the LGBT community? What does that say if we do? We certainly didn’t want to position the league of being exclusionary to anyone. What were we saying if we did it more proactively? Society and sports culture is very different today than it was back then. Teams were trying to figure out the right thing to do.”
Brittney Griner, one of a handful of WNBA athletes who have publicly identified themselves as lesbian, was happy the league was embracing the community and stated,
“I’m so glad that we’re finally making a push to the LGBT community who is a strong supporter of the WNBA,” said Griner, who served as grand marshal of the Phoenix Pride parade last season. “Our league being the first to make that push and bring more attention to it is great. We’ll pave the way and show it’s fine and there’s nothing wrong with it. More sports need to do it. It’s 2014; it’s about time.”
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