Jason Collins decision to come out as an openly gay male athlete will serve as a test case for US sports leagues, his future teammates and fans. Not to mention Madison Avenue.
Backing an openly gay male athlete with an endorsement deal is not without risk for corporate marketers who are due to spend an estimated $20 billion this year on sports sponsorships, pitching products to consumers who have varying views on gay rights.
While Nike was quick to offer support — “We admire Jason’s courage and are proud that he is a Nike athlete. Nike believes in a level playing field where an athlete’s sexual orientation is not a consideration” — others could follow suit, given the huge marketing opportunity presented by an LGBT community that contributes $790 billion annually.
Gay athletes have been snubb-ed in the past. Bo Witeck, a gay-marketing strategist, said Marti-na Navratilova, a lesbian, was seen as “a toxic, high-risk deal” by sponsors, who thought blowback would be severe.”