Sponsorship and Gay Sport: A Case Study of the 2000 Gay Softball World Series
Jarvis, Nigel, International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship
Whilst there has been much research in recent years that has looked at gay participation in sport in relation to issues of identity construction (Griffin, 1998; Hall, 1996; Messner, 1992; Miller, 2001; Pitts, 1997), there has been less empirical research into the organization and corporate structures that manage such sports events. More specifically in this era of heightened commodification, the issue of the sponsorship of gay sports events represents an interesting case study of how the "mainstream" commercial sector has attempted to embrace elements of gay and lesbian sporting culture, and whether this is any different to more mainstream sporting cultures. It also provides a context to study the legitimation of both the sponsors of gay sport and of the lesbian and gay community itself (Suchman, 1995).
Research was carried out on one popular lesbian and gay sport in North America, softball, and its annual championship "World Series" held in Toronto, Canada, in August 2000. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with key organizers of the tournament, participating teams, and with the majority of the sponsors of the event. Questions were focussed on identifying the nature and type of sponsorship that the Series attracted, the motivations of sponsors, the historical sponsorship trends associated with gay and lesbian softball and its annual Series, and the effectiveness of the sponsorship after the event. It also took a critical look at the wider political consequences of the symbiotic embrace of capital and lesbian and gay culture.
The key findings indicated that the majority of sponsors of the Series were from the gay and lesbian business community; however, it appears that increasingly the Series is attracting more mainstream corporate sponsors as the sport expands in North America. In terms of motivations for sponsoring the Series, the largest number of overall respondents indicated it was to increase sales; however, there was some variance within the motivations by the type of sponsor. Mainstream corporate sponsors were more focussed on sales market share and brand loyalty while lesbian and gay orientated sponsors' motivations were centred around the community, public relations, sales and image. The sponsorship of gay softball and the Series by gay orientated businesses may help to strengthen social bonds or ties that characterize Toronto's gay and lesbian community, while at the same time helping to achieve business goals such as increasing sales and shifting market share.
A mapping of sponsorship trends over the past 25 years indicated that gay and lesbian softball and its annual Series has attracted an increasingly diverse range of sponsors, from the early period of relying solely on gay bar sponsors, to the present era of the embracement by both mainstream corporations and businesses and other non-bar gay and lesbian orientated establishments. The vast majority of sponsors identified that they viewed the sponsorship as a success even though most sponsors had no exact measures to track its effectiveness. The more mainstream corporate sponsors tended to measure the effectiveness of the sponsorship based on increased sales, while the local gay and lesbian orientated sponsors tended to track the success of the sponsorship by added sales but also equally important by supporting and giving something back to the community.
However, as the Series and softball has grown and developed, and with it sponsorship, it has raised a number of critical issues. It appears that there is much negotiation and resistance occurring among all levels within softball, from the organizers to individual teams, with regard to the type and nature of sponsorship involved in the sport. While the increased sponsorship support from mainstream corporations and other sponsors helps to legitimize gay softball and sport and, in turn, the gay and lesbian community, it can be concluded that full legitimacy has not yet been achieved as some constituents (individual players, teams, softball organizers) still question some aspects of the sponsorship of their sport (Handelman and Arnold, 1999). …