The 28-year-old, quadrennial Gay Games has a long history, accompanied by over a decade of financial difficulties. Originally planned for Montreal this year, Gay Games VII moved to Chicago after disagreements in 2003 with organizers -- spawning the competing World Outgames to be held a week later in Montreal.
Can two similar events just a week apart succeed, when numerous past games racked up deficits? As it turns out, they've both raised record corporate sponsorships. Gay Games VII has nearly $2 million in sponsorships alone (not including in-kind donations of media or product) from 250 companies, and the World Outgames in Montreal brought in its own $1.78 million, making gay sports marketing a major investment for many companies this year.
The 2002 Gay Games VI in Sydney, Australia, and the 1998 Gay Games V in The Netherlands were both budgetary disasters, generating $2.5 million deficits. While Amsterdam's sponsors were an impressive list including Avis, Bacardi, Durex condoms, Kodak, KLM Airlines, Levi Strauss, Rolling Rock, and Speedo, the Australian games managed far fewer and lower athlete participation.
Yet both Outgames and Gay Games VII expect to finish in the black, which would be an impressive outcome.
Gay Games and Outgames Share GlaxoSmithKline
The highest level corporate cash sponsors of Gay Games VII, in Chicago July 15-22 (www.gaygameschicago.org), are Walgreens, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for HIV drug Lexiva, and Q Television Network, which shut down in May but already paid $1 million, according to Tracy Baim, Gay Games VII co-vice chair of the board of directors. Other major cash sponsors include Absolut Vodka, Altoids, Amtrak, Aon, AT&T, CNA Insurance, Ernst & Young, Kraft Foods, MetLife, Orbitz, and RCN. Major in-kind media relationships include LOGO, PlanetOut, The New York Times, and Chicago NBC station WMAQ.
In addition to strong Canadian governmental funding, the July 26 to August 5 Outgames (a href="http://www.montreal2006.org" target="_blank">www.montreal2006.org), is also supported by Pepsi-Cola Canada, GSK, Labatt Breweries, Air Canada, Bell Canada and others.
GSK is the only company to sponsor both the Gay Games and Outgames, showing little sponsor sharing between the two operations.
Tom Czerniecki, marketing communications director for Outgames, says that Outgames didn't approach Gay Games sponsors and acknowledges its sponsors are primarily Canadian. "We of course concentrated in our market, though I would have liked to have had IBM and Microsoft. We're a first time event, so there was a lot of 'Let's wait and see' attitudes."
"There are similarities, both cities are delivering games," he says, but "Outgames has been sanctioned by mainstream sports federations within the structures of the Olympic movement and I.O.C. (International Olympic Committee)," including how the results are captured, the qualifications of referees, and types of venues.
Montreal Disagreement Over Event Scale Leads To Split
Back in 2003, the Federation of the Gay Games decided it wanted a smaller scale event for Montreal after not meeting projections in Sydney, bringing strong disagreement from Montreal organizers. With $2.67 million of funding already in place from the Canadian government, Montreal leaders decided to form their own quadrennial event and organization, the Gay & Lesbian International Sports Association, and the Gay Games moved to Chicago in 2004.
Baim helped organize the Chicago bid for the Gay Games back in 1999, taking on some of the same challenges Montreal had, along with previous Games cities. "The Federation of the Gay Games (www.gaygames.com) is no I.O.C.," says Baim. "There is no legacy of sponsorship, it's really starting over each time. I'll be the first to admit the F.G.G. is very difficult to work with. And the Federation really needs ongoing staff and sponsors." Gay Games VII has already paid the F.G.G. more than all previous games combined, says Baim, which may finally bring continuity for future games.
The next Gay Games is set for 2010 in Cologne, Germany, and the next World Outgames will be in Copenhagen in 2009.
Interest from advertisers in the gay market has grown considerably since the 1994 Gay Games IV in New York, which coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall marches. It was the last time the Gay Games were in the U.S., and earned $700,000 from sponsors including AT&T, Hiram Walker, K-Y Liquid, Miller Brewing, Showtime, several pharmaceutical marketers and then new PlanetOut.com.
Even as sponsor interest in gay sporting events has grown, Baim still found advertisers already interested in the gay market were hesitant to add sports to the mix.
Baim, who also started Chicago's Windy City Times gay newspaper in 1985, decided to take on new challenges by being a major organizer of the Gay Games. She just didn't realize what she was getting herself into. "I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn't it would be this hard! I'll never do it again, but I don't regret if for a minute."