The WNBA is launching a marketing campaign targeting its vast LGBT audience, making it the first pro sports league to explicitly reach out to gay fans.
WNBA President Laurel Ritchie told the Associated Press that the move acknowledges an audience that has long supported the league. "For us," she says, "it's a celebration of diversity and inclusion and recognition of an audience that has been with us very passionately... this is one of those moments in the 'W' where everybody comes together." Ritchie adds that the WNBA has participated in isolated pride events since it started in 1997, and that the new campaign is more a consolidation of past efforts than any type of deviation from the league's norm. In her words:
We embrace all our fans and it's a group that we know has been very, very supportive. I won't characterize it as "Why did it take so long?" For me it's been we've been doing a lot of terrific initiatives. The piece that's different this year is unifying it.
In 2012, a WNBA-commissioned study found that about one quarter of lesbians polled say they watch WNBA games on television, and about one fifth said they have attended the game — making the marketing campaign an obvious business choice. The move also follows a wave of professional athletes publicly coming out as gay, including NFL draft pick Michael Sam, making the issue of equality more prominent in the sports world than it has ever been.
The announcement also follows weeks of courts overturning gay marriage bans across several states.