Targé Marché

by Jim Provenzano
2001, sometime during Sweeps Week
Bay Area Reporter

Martina sells credit cards. The L.A. Sparks sell basketball in lesbian bars. Cute Corey Johnson sells sofas. A smiling Bruce Hayes sells Coors.

Wait a second. Coors?

On the heels of yet another highly researched feature article in another gay publication, and several previous investigative stories proving the less than hidden ties between Coors, the Castle Rock Foundation, the Reich Wing Heritage Foundation and its virtual embedding into the White House, Olympic swimmer and multiple medalist Bruce Hayes, currently a resident of Atlanta, sports his Gay Games medals in full-page ads in Out and other gay glossies, which also feature cigarette and other alcohol ads; more than in non-gay "lifestyle" magazines.

Gay Games is mentioned in small type at the bottom of the ad, leaving little doubt as to which beverage's banner ads might as well be plastered all over the Federation of Gay Games site, or prominently sold at Gay Games VI in Sydney, where the Aussie beer of choice, Foster's Lager, has yet to out-bid Coors as "exclusive brew."

Drink up, gay America. Smoke 'em if you got 'em. Who cares if your community has the highest cancer and alcoholism rate outside of a few former Soviet republics?

Anheuser-Busch, equally right wing, but less studied, includes openly gay men in its latest campaign, and has a greater success rate in sponsoring sports/alcohol tie-ins.

While Martina's credit card donates a percentage of profits to gay causes, beer profits remain much more questionable.

Cory, you may recall, offers visions of gay-tolerant comfort; in 1999 he came out to his Massachusetts football team to little controversy and media accolades. Little if anything questionable can be said about the young Johnson's endorsement of Mitchell Gold sofas.

The boy's gotta pay for college somehow.

Spark plugs

Without beer, sofas, or anything but sport to sell, the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA began marketing their team to the Southern California lesbian community.

Girl Bar Los Angeles, the site of the June event, is the nation's largest lesbian club with about 12,000 members. The rally was held at the Factory, a West Hollywood nightclub. This was the first openly gay group to be the focus of such a campaign.

"It came about through conversations with Penny Toler [the Sparks' general manager] and Michael Harris [the team's advertising director]," said Girl Bar Los Angeles co-founder Sandy Sachs in an article in the Los Angeles Times.

"There are a lot of women who don't know who the Sparks are, and the Sparks felt this was a way to reach out to this particular market."

Almost 100 tickets were sold within the first week of the announcement of the event.

Joe McCormack, vice president of finance for the Los Angeles Lakers, has played an active role in marketing the Sparks.

"We want to market this basketball team to fans whoever they might be, be they an inner-city youth basketball team or someone of an alternate lifestyle," McCormack told the Times.

Sachs called the rally a "precedent-setting" marketing move by the Sparks. "They're actively pursuing the lesbian community," she said.

In their final Forum season last summer, the club averaged 7,625 fans a game, 10th best in a 16-team league. Sparks home attendance has declined every season since the inaugural 1997 team averaged under 9,000. Lesbian community marketing is a departure from previous sales programs, which pretty much ignored what may be their largest target market.

But in a 1998 Sports Illustrated article, Johnny Buss, the L.A. Sparks' president, took a decidedly different approach. "I know the lesbian community is showing up, so I leave them alone. I'd rather focus on pulling in more males. Would it hurt if most of our spectators were lesbian? That's hard to say."

WNBA officials in New York shunted off the queer angle, one calling it a "local promotion; a team matter."

No women's sports team has ever partnered with a lesbian organization to attract fans. Women's sports organizations and teams have tried to distance themselves from associations with lesbian groups. No WNBA player has come out as a lesbian, either.

With her business and life partner, Robin Gans, Sachs has sold many vacations to the LPGA Nabisco Dinah Shore Golf Tournament in Rancho Mirage. "And the LPGA wants nothing to do with us," Sachs said.

This sales pitch raised more than a few sporty eyebrows, and the event itself became the focus, not the game. Some editorials dismissed it, while others applauded the outreach effort.

DeLisha Milton, a Sparks player, was surprised by the reaction.

"We're in Los Angeles which is one of the most diverse places in the world," Milton said. "We want everybody to come to our games. Blacks, whites, men, women, people who have alternative lifestyles. We've got plenty of room for anybody who wants to watch us play."

The Cleveland Rockers, the Sparks recent opposing team, will not be joining other Women's National Basketball Association teams' attempt to woo lesbian fans.

"Our marketing is exclusive to women of all kinds," said Rockers vice president of communications Ed Markey, "We don't pare it down to fine points such as that."

The fine point being, take what you can get, GLBT sports community.

We may not have basic civil rights, but at least we've got some honest marketing amid all those ads.

PINS and Monkey Suits | More Articles | Contact Jim | SF Sports Groups | Global Sports Groups

All articles copyright Jim Provenzano and syndicated publications that publish Sports Complex. Do not copy or post without written permission. Most images copyright Jim Provenzano, unless otherwise credited, or used in an editorial context.