WNBA becomes first league to market itself to LGBT community

Almost five years ago, The Post’s Mike Wise wrote about why the Washington Mystics — a team with a sizable lesbian fan base — do not employ the Kiss Cam at their games. The risk of offending someone by showing two women kissing on the JumboTron was too great, and what if the camera focuses on two women who aren’t actually lesbians?

“We just don’t find it appropriate,” Sheila Johnson, the Mystics’ managing partner, told Wise.

Wise wrote:

It’s understandable that a financially shaky league is outright terrified it could alienate a chunk of its fan base if two same-sex people shared a chaste kiss on a video scoreboard.

Hello, gay and lesbian jokes. Goodbye, heterosexual family ticket plans. Goodbye, progress. …

But how long does a league keep some of its most loyal and longtime customers in the closet? How long should any historically persecuted group keep quiet when the Mystics take sponsorship dollars from a company [ExxonMobil] noted for discrimination against gays?

Five years later, things have changed. Athletes such as Brittney Griner, Michael Sam and Jason Collins have all been hailed for being open about their homosexuality. And now the WNBA — and the Mystics, who were afraid to break out the Kiss Cam because it might offend someone — is changing course, actively promoting itself to the gay community.

Per the Associated Press:

The WNBA is launching a campaign to market specifically to the LGBT community, a move that makes it the first pro league to specifically recruit gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered fans to its games.

With the campaign, the WNBA is capitalizing on what it has known for years: The community makes up a significant portion of its fan base. The difference now is that the league is talking about it publicly and making it a deliberate part of its marketing strategy.

The effort, which begins with the launch of a website Wednesday, includes having teams participate in local pride festivals and parades, working with advocacy groups to raise awareness of inclusion through grassroots events, and advertising with lesbian media. A nationally televised pride game will take place between Tulsa and Chicago on Sunday, June 22. All 12 teams will also have some sort of pride initiative over the course of the season.

“For us it’s a celebration of diversity and inclusion and recognition of an audience that has been with us very passionately,” WNBA President Laurel Richie said. “This is one of those moments in the ‘W’ where everybody comes together.”

A 2012 study commissioned by the WNBA found that “25 percent of lesbians watch the league’s games on TV while 21 percent have attended a game,” the AP reported. The league features a number of players who are open about their sexuality, including Griner, one of the league’s most prominent stars. And with players in other sports beginning to come out of the closet, the time was right for the league to change course.

“It’s culturally more acceptable now than it was when it first started” in 1997, former WNBA star Rebecca Lobo told the AP. “The league has been around for so many years they can do these sort of things without worrying about what some people might think.”

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