After decades of a misconception that the LGBT community isn’t interested in sports, the secret is finally out.
The LGBT community likes to play sports, talk about sports and watch sports. It also actively supports local professional teams. All over the country, LGBT community nights are popping up at college, minor league and major league sports games. And, similar to other community nights that recognize the military and children’s charities among others, sports apparel is starting to appear in support of the LGBT community.
Obtaining the necessary licensing to produce sports clothing related to teams can be tricky. Everything down to the design has to be checked off before items can be produced by approved apparel companies. ’47 is a company that sees a huge opportunity and market for licensed sports merchandise.
Located in Westwood, Mass., ’47 is a licensed partner with Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and more than 650 colleges.
’47 has a niche market with its Black Fives clothing line that honors the all-black basketball teams and their associated cities. The teams existed in the United States between 1904 and 1950 until they were integrated into the National Basketball Association.
’47 is one year into testing the market for the response on another niche market — LGBT sports apparel.
“We are still in the infancy of our LGBT line of apparel,” said Brian Maurer, a sales rep for ’47. “We started on a small scale and so far have only produced caps and shirts.”
’47 first reached out to Major League Baseball, which first approved apparel for the Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants and the New York Yankees.
“We don’t want to focus on the team’s logo. Instead we want to show off the city, the sport and the pride in the city,” Maurer says. “This is about people representing their city.”
Washington, D.C. is home to the popular Night OUT Series hosted by Team DC with LGBT community nights held annually with professional sports teams such as the Washington Nationals, D.C. United, Washington Mystics, Washington Kastles and the Washington Prodigy.
The 11th Annual Night OUT at the Nationals was held in June and ‘47 was contacted by the Washington Nationals to create an LGBT-themed cap and shirt for the event.
“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive as evidenced by how quickly we sold out of the items,” says Jennifer Giglio, vice president of communications for the Nationals. “We have heard from fans both in person and via social media who loved the items and asked us to stock more of them in the store.”
Due to popular demand, both of the items have been re-issued for this season. The shirt is available at the main team store at Nats Park. The cap is expected to arrive in the next couple weeks and will be available there as well.
“Beginning on opening day in 2016, fans should expect to see more options arriving at the stadium,” Giglio says.
The annual United Night OUT event with D.C. United will be held on Sept. 19 at RFK Stadium and the idea of LGBT apparel was recently proposed to their front office.
“We don’t have anything at the moment, but we certainly support our LGBT fans,” said Craig Stouffer, director of communications for D.C. United. “We’re always listening to the community and considering new and different ideas.”
Three major sports apparel companies have jumped into the market in a different way.
The #BETRUE collection from Nike offers a variety of shoes and shirts that feature rainbow colors as a reflection of the diversity in sports. At least $300,000 has been donated to groups that are furthering the LGBT sports movement such as GO! Athletes.
In honor of LGBT Pride, Adidas released its Pride Pack, which re-imagined three types of iconic footwear into rainbow-themed styles. Proceeds from the line are being donated to Portland-area LGBT groups, including New Avenues for Youth, an LGBT youth advocacy program.
Converse, which is Nike-owned, released three items in the Proud to Be line of its Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Two designs were dedicated to San Francisco and New York because of their history with the LGBT community.
Perhaps the most interesting show of apparel support is coming in the form of minor league teams wearing LGBT awareness uniforms during a match. In some cases it is just in warm-ups, but others such as the San Francisco Bulls (hockey) and Detroit City FC (soccer) played a complete match in those uniforms.
It’s a little far-fetched to think that a team in major professional sports would outfit themselves in LGBT apparel for games that are part of their regular schedule. However, a soccer team in Madrid has set an inclusive example with the release of its first away kit for next season.
Rayo Vallecano has produced a rainbow-themed kit and will donate roughly $10 from the sale of each jersey to seven causes that represent the colors of the rainbow. The seven charitable causes are environmental protection, the fight against HIV/AIDS, sexual discrimination, child abuse, gender-based violence, discrimination for disabilities, and to ”never lose hope.”