I love gay sports and events like the Gay Games. With the evolving state of the community, it’s important that we recognize it so large organizations can ensure the events they hold are successful and relevant in the future. But if you’ve taken part in any large Pride festival +over the past 5 years, you may have noticed the increase in corporate participation and recognition of the LGBTQ+ community.

Every corporation it seems has a rainbow version of their logo and proudly represents their brand at Pride events all over the country. While this inclusion of bigger corporate recognition and ultimately their money is important for increased recognition and awareness of the LGBTQ+ community and its rights, it has not come without expense.

With corporations willing to pay big money for participation in Pride via vendor booths and parade participation, this means an increase in the cost of these booths and parade slots – increases to the point that local smaller LGBTQ+ organizations and non-profits may not have the funds or budget to participate in their own local Pride event. In Denver alone there are 20+ LGBTQ+ sports organizations of different sizes and sports. However the amount of participation at Denver Pride by these organizations has been minimal at best. It’s just like when Walmart opens a store in a small town and economically forces the closure of the local much smaller mom and pop shops.

Citing a lack of return on investment or ROI, many of these organizations have not seen the increases in participation and attendance at their events to justify the cost of the hundreds of precious resource dollars it takes to set up a booth. That doesn’t even include the money spent for flyers and other promotional materials to hand out afterwards. This begs the question: if there is an increase in corporate participation at Pride at the expense of local community involvement, then what is the purpose of Pride?

Are the corporations who participate in Pride true champions for the LGBTQ+ community? What do they do outside of Pride to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community? Very few corporations stand by their support for the LGBTQ+ community through action like Nike. For example, Nike regularly features LGBTQ+ athletes in their marketing and has organized LGBTQ+-specific workshops and events outside of traditional Pride.

At Pridefest one year, our organization offered to share the booth with other local LGBTQ+ Sports organizations to encourage more local organizations to get back involved with PRIDE.

At Pridefest one year, our organization offered to share the booth with other local LGBTQ+ Sports organizations to encourage more local organizations to get back involved with PRIDE.

However, Nike is part of an all-too slim corporate majority. The rest of the corporations involved are there for face value, essentially to tap into the so called “pink dollar.” Recognizing both the power for potential profit from the LGBTQ+ community and the lack of risk for PR fallout with increased acceptance of their presence, many corporations decide that investing in a rainbow logo and booth at Pride is worth the potential return on their investment. It leads to bigger profits just for being “Inclusive and LGBTQ+ Friendly.”

Mind you, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it has diluted our cause and extended the many battles for equality for LGBTQ+ people. The purpose for the above context leads to the next potential corporate opportunity to really tap into that almighty “pink dollar” – LGBTQ+ sports. With annual, semiannual and even quadrennial LGBTQ+ sporting events that include a large variety of sports, many of which draw thousands and thousands of athletes to participate, it is like an untapped gold mine for potential sponsors to show off their “inclusivity.”

Sporting events, regardless of LGBTQ+ or not, are not exactly cheap to organize. The bigger the event, the more money you must spend on venues, marketing, infrastructure, administration fees, equipment and so on. Despite the high cost, the potential within these events to create lucrative returns on investment is endless, including the boost it can give to the local economy from funds from sponsorships, registration fees and even just the positive PR it can give to the host city. The 2014 Gay Games executive summary’s economic impact information for example showed a $52 million dollar boost to the Cleveland economy.

There are certainly a lot of positive reasons to host such a sporting event but there are big risks as well. The City of Miami for example is out hundreds of thousands of dollars and individual and organizational reputations are tarnished as a result of the massive failure to organize the 2017 World OutGames and failure keep a close oversight on the spending. The city of Rio de Janeiro is also continuing to face the heavy negative economic impact of overspending for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

With these risks and the potential rewards, host cities are trying to find the best way to maximize their potential financial benefits while minimizing their potential risks. Again, this is where corporate sponsorships come into play. If a host city can find a sponsor to pay for some of the cost in exchange for the publicity, maybe even some participation at the event, then the host city can further reduce its financial risk in organizing the event. A good example of this is the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles where the city partnered with McDonalds for the construction of several venues.

While this kind of sponsorship is certainly necessary for the host and important for the continued relevance and success of LGBTQ+ sporting events, at what point does this partnering become too much? Will the commercialization of an event dilute the main purpose and focus of the event? With the money coming in, sponsors could potentially seek a voice in how the event is organized and by whom, effectively taking it away from people who may have more passion than they do money.

What happens when a bunch of corporate marketing and PR people organize a sporting event? What happens is you have people in charge who don’t necessarily have an interest in sports. Worse yet, they may not even know the intricacies that athletes appreciate and look forward to at such an event. Their focus is money and the business entity takes precedence over the sports and community aspect.

A good example of this took place at the 2015 EuroGames in Stockholm, Sweden. The sporting events suffered massive mismanagement mistakes and disorganization on such a staggering level that even novice athletes couldn’t make. There was a significant lack of community support and involvement. A lot of Stockholm citizens weren’t even aware that such a large sporting event was scheduled to take place within their own city.  

The medals I won at the 2015 Eurogames came with great stress as an athlete due to uncertainty of scheduling and other organizational nightmares including a 14 hour day of competition (from 7am to 9pm) just to swim that was originally scheduled over 2 days.

The medals I won at the 2015 Eurogames came with great stress as an athlete due to uncertainty of scheduling and other organizational nightmares. Including a 14 hour day of competition (from 7am to 9pm) just to swim events that were originally scheduled over 2 days.


It was clear that the local organizing committee had no local ties to the community nor involvement within the sports they were supposed to be organizing. This level of mismanagement and lack of community organization from within almost completely destroyed the EuroGames legacy. If it wasn’t for the superb and significantly scaled back organization of the 2016 EuroGames held in Helsinki, it would have never recovered. 

While sponsorships are important for the continued financial viability of such large events, it is important that we maintain our focus on the event’s purpose and mission – sports. LGBTQ+ sports involve two large communities; LGBTQ+ community members and athletes, both gay and straight. These are the communities that have the most to gain or lose from participating in LGBTQ+ sporting events, regardless of who puts up the money to help organize them.

The idea behind this is to put pressure on organizers so they don’t destroy what so many people have worked so hard to build. The mission and focus of the event must remain clear and true to its purpose which is to organize a fun and high quality competitive sporting event by and for the LGBTQ+ community that is an example of the inclusion, diversity and equality necessary in the sports world.


By Dirk Smith

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