Good Business. Good Policy: The Economic Impact of Hosting GLBT Sporting Events

Article excerpt

In the present economic times, parks and recreation departments are searching for sources of revenue Interestingly, some communities have turned down revenue sources from a particular portion of society, a demographic considered "recession-resistant" and willing to spend its money even in tough times. This portion of society is the gay, lesbian bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) community which continues to travel nationally and internationally to play in various sports tournaments, providing income to host communities. An example of this sort of community resistance occurred with the Gay Games hosted in Chicago in 2006.

The coordinators of the Gay Games were looking for a site to host their rowing competition. After the Games expressed its interest to the park board of a Chicago suburb, several, concerns were raised by park board and community members. These concerns included having the "flamboyancy" often displayed in gay pride parades coming to their community, not wanting to be drawn into a cultural debate, allowing the Gay Games to use their community as a "vehicle to demonstrate their cause" or to push asocial agenda and allowing possible HIV-positive athletes into their community.

Gay residents of this community expressed concerns that if the park board would not allow a gay sporting event in their community, how long would it be before gay residents themselves were no longer welcome in the community? In stark contrast, a number of gay and straight community members (including many young people) viewed the event as a way to enhance their quality of life. The park board initially rejected the proposal as some disputed whether the sexual orientation of the Games drove the negative response. A week later the decision, was reversed with a 3-2 vote of approval, recognizing the proposal was well-organized and met the criteria.

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The issue seems to hinge on the true motivation of GLBT individuals to participate in sport leagues and tournaments. The concerns of the residents are unsupported, and some would say insensitive, if the GLBT participants are driven by the same reasons (sporting experience, social interaction, etc.) as non-GLBT individuals. However, if participation is driven by a chance to push a social agenda or find a mutually attracted partner, residents' concerns may have relative merit. Surveying GLBT individuals on their motivation for participating and the satisfaction they receive from playing in sports leagues and tournaments can yield answers to the controversy.

The Chicago Metropolitan Sport Association (CMSA) is the largest GLBT sport association in the country, with more than 3,500 members and featuring sport leagues in badminton, bowling, dodgeball, flag football, kickball, soccer, softball tennis, and volleyball. Many of the sport leagues will also host tournaments bringing in travelers from across the country to compete against other GLBT teams. In addition to Chicago, tournaments occur all over North America, providing various communities with income from such sources as field/court rentals, car rentals, and hotel accommodations. For example, the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance (softball) lists more than 30 communities that host GLBT softball tournaments from Tampa to San Diego to Vancouver. Similar sites list communities that host tournaments for flag football, bowling, tennis, and other sports.

So why do GLBT individuals play in these leagues and tournaments? To provide some insight into the reasons, a survey of CMSA members was conducted and questions were asked of participants of a softball tournament hosted in Chicago. Many of those surveyed had previous experiences in sports, their last sporting experience prior to CMSA being in college intramurals (33 percent), high school sports (28 percent), or grade school (13 percent). Since the majority of the participants were in their thirties (42 percent), one may also ask why they had not participated in sport leagues since early in life, including why they may not have participated in opportunities provided by municipal parks and recreation. …