Before Jason Collins came out as the first male gay athlete in a major U.S. sport, only basketball enthusiasts and Washington Wizards followers knew about him.
Today, Collins is the talk of the nation, and he will most likely be of some value to big brands looking to capitalize on his newfound fame.
Collins will be more than a niche name valuable to brands that want to reach out to the LGBT community, according to Mark Elderkin, the CEO of gay media networking firm Gay Ad Network. He will be considered mainstream, and which could garner him a huge pay day.
Elderkin predicts there will most likely be a bidding war to determine Collins’ value. “You’re what someone’s willing to pay for that endorsement,” he said.
Some companies might be hesitant to sponsor a gay athlete, considering the backlash against those who made positive statements about LGBT rights. Remember when J.C. Penney unleashed a storm of criticism when it featured openly gay Ellen DeGeneres in a campaign, and uber-conservative group One Million Moms quickly encouraged its followers to abandon the department store?
Elderkin dismissed anti-gay groups as mere annoyances that don’t significantly affect sales. “The kind of fear that advertisers had isn’t around much anymore,” he said.
Collins is already a Nike athlete, but it remains to be seen how the brand will utilize him. According to a report from Bloomberg News, before Collins announced his sexuality, Nike was already seeking to sponsor the first openly gay male athlete in a major sport . The company just happened to have the prize fall right in its lap, and it’s unlikely to let Collins slip through its fingers.
“We admire Jason’s courage and are proud that he is a Nike athlete,” the company said in a statement yesterday. “Nike believes in a level playing field where an athlete’s sexual orientation is not a consideration.”
No matter what happens to Collins’s career in the NBA, he’ll always have his big coming-out day under his belt. Elderkin cited this as a valuable “first-mover” advantage for Collins, even if more athletes start coming out as gay in the near future.
“He’s always going to be the first gay guy to come out in pro sports,” said Elderkin. “He’s never going to lose that.”