Monday, July 17, 2006


Blue-chip sponsors see Green in Gay Games

Tribune--While the road to Gay Games Chicago has been a bumpy one, its organizers have lined up an impressive roster of sponsors for the athletic competitions that kick off Saturday, signaling that corporate America is opening its eyes to this lucrative but once-taboo consumer sector.

The 300-plus sponsors include a bevy of blue-chip brands, among them Walgreens, Orbitz, The New York Times, Absolut Vodka, American Airlines, Ernst & Young, Gatorade, Nike, Best Buy, Kraft, Aon, CNA, Chipotle, Merrill Lynch and Motorola.The fact that some of America's top brands are attaching themselves to such a highly visible and international event signals a sea change in corporate thinking.

All told, corporate, small-business and individual donors chipped in $13.5 million of the estimated $20 million in projected revenue and contributed goods and services that will fuel the games, said Sam Coady, co-chairman of the Gay Games Chicago board of directors. This level of support far surpasses any private backing since the launch of the quadrennial games in 1982.

And the fact that early sponsors, including Kraft Foods Inc., Harris Bank and Walgreen Co., did not back down in the face of criticism from conservative Christian groups and the potential for pickets and boycotts sends a signal that increasing numbers of mainstream businesses are recognizing the importance of this consumer sector, said Jim Andrews, editorial director of the IEG Sponsorship Report, based in Chicago.

Everything we do should reflect the diverse society we are," said Niya Moon, a spokesman for Kraft Foods, whose shareholders overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to rescind the company's support.

For Walgreens, the goal was HIV/AIDS prevention, spokesman Michael Polzin said. The firm will distribute informational brochures and offer HIV testing at the Hilton Chicago for the first three days of the event.

Conservative groups, including the Illinois Family Institute of Glen Ellyn, last year targeted early-bird sponsors, including Kraft, Harris Bank and Walgreens. The attacks made other companies wary of signing on, and the resistance lasted several months until it became clear the companies were standing their ground, Baim said."No one pulled back, so everyone kept coming on," she said. "And this encouraged others, because some had said they'd come later, when there were more brand names

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion or belief regarding our support," said Kraft's Moon. "But this is about being inclusive and supporting the communities we serve, and they are diverse communities."



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