This is Part 1 of an extensive two-part blog covering how sports and entertainment properties are approaching (and should approach) the LGBT(Q) demographic from a marketing and communications standpoint. Part 1 breaks down LGBT(Q) designations and terminology, and discusses the importance of addressing these segments in market research. Part 2 will break down exactly how to incorporate LGBT(Q) questions and content in survey instruments.

Part 1: Why Is This Issue Important?

As public awareness of and for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have increased, sports teams and entertainment properties (along with many other companies) are focusing on how best to reach and market to this demographic. In this blog post, I will discuss why it is important for sports and entertainment properties to create surveys that are inclusive of LGBT(Q) people. In my next post, I will cover how to create inclusive surveys.

We begin with a few notes about terminology and diversity. The acronym LGBT(Q) stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and sometimes queer, are terms used to describe a person’s sexual orientation. Transgender is a term that relates to a person’s gender identity, and generally refers to an individual who believes that their gender is not the one they were assigned at conception. Cisgender is the standard terminology used to refer to people who are not transgender.

However, many members of the LGBT(Q )community prefer labels that are not part of the acronym. Some of these include pansexual (like bisexual, but includes attraction to transgender people), queer (tends to be used as an umbrella term by some who dislike other labels), and genderqueer or gender non-binary (person identifies as both or neither gender). For most people, their gender identity (i.e., psychological sense of identity) matches their physical sex, but for some people this is not the case. Sexual orientation and gender identity are unrelated human phenomena, and any given person may identify in more than one category.

The Case For Inclusive Surveys
There are both statistical and psychological reasons why sports and entertainment companies should design inclusive survey instruments. Let’s start with the numbers: according to a special report released by Gallup in October 2012, 3.4% of American adults identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. A separate analysis from Witeck Communications, released in 2013, found that approximately 6-7% of the US adult population self-identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender, which equals about 15-16 million adults.

Furthermore, the LGBT(Q) community is projected to have significant buying power and strong consumer loyalty, especially to companies whose outreach efforts are perceived to be genuine. According to the Witeck Communications report, LGBT(Q) people hold a combined projected $830 billion in buying power in 2014. These statistics indicate that a small but measurable slice of American adults are included in this demographic, have resources to spend, and are very loyal consumers.

Why is this issue important in the context of sports teams? In addition to the statistics cited above, a 2013 Nielsen report found that gay and lesbian consumers are bigger sports fans than their straight counterparts. Specifically, Nielsen found that gay and lesbian internet users are more likely to attend pro sporting events (11%), more likely to watch sports-related videos online (51%), and more likely to play fantasy sports online (39%) than average adult internet users.

These findings suggest that, statistically, every single pro sports franchise in America already has LGBT(Q) adults in their databases as season ticket holders and/or single game/event buyers. If surveys are not designed to capture this information, teams will make decisions about marketing to this demographic without knowing who exactly they are talking to or what might resonate with those fans. By making even routine surveys more inclusive, teams have the opportunity to get to know this segment of their consumers better, and serve them more effectively. Just as demographic questions about race or gender can illuminate patterns when used to slice data, questions about sexual orientation and gender identity can help teams identify patterns of responses that are different from others and actionable in some way.

In addition to the statistical case for making surveys inclusive, it also makes psychological sense. According to Bob Witeck, the majority of LGBT(Q) consumers want to be asked about their sexual and gender orientation, and, as long as they feel physically and emotionally safe, are more than willing to talk to companies about who they are and how they feel about their interactions with these companies. Creating inclusive surveys is a way to make consumers, in this case sports fans, feel more valued and understood, and to gain increased loyalty. Specifically regarding transgender and gender-non-conforming fans, a recent article on highlighted the importance of properly addressing trans and gender-non-conforming athletes:

Pronouns are not frivolous; they are everything.

Have you ever been called the wrong name? I don’t mean just once; I mean consistently, and repeatedly. One of my former staff members learned my name as Kathy, and every once in a while, he will call me that.

It’s a very similar feeling to when I wear a skirt – or anything feminine, really. I feel like I’m in disguise, only it’s not Halloween. The discomfort my pronouns create for other people give a taste of the crippling hurt with which I live.

The struggle around pronouns and forced dichotomies exists for fans that are transgender or gender-non-binary. When a transgender fan receives a survey and is forced to pick “male” or “female,” that experience may make that individual feel alienated from the team that sent the survey. Having a “prefer not to answer” option at least provides an out, but is not the same as giving the fan the opportunity to tell you who they really are. If this fan is a season ticket holder and the team has an account manager, it is very important that the account manager understands the person’s preferred pronouns and identity. Additionally, surveys provide a great opportunity to get that information included in a team’s database.

Finally, making surveys inclusive will likely increase loyalty among LGBT(Q)-affirming fans. These are fans who are straight and cisgender, but whose friends, relatives, and/or colleagues are LGBT(Q) and for whom LGBT(Q) rights are deeply important. These fans constitute many of the folks who recently signed petitions to get sports teams to create “It Gets Better” anti-bullying videos, and these fans will spend more money with teams who they believe are inclusive in their business practices.

The Case Against Inclusive Surveys
There are two main reasons why companies may be reluctant to create LGBT(Q)-inclusive surveys: belief that they do not have LGBT(Q) consumers, or belief that being inclusive will alienate non-LGBT(Q) consumers.

The first is disproved by the statistics cited above. Based on the numbers, we can reasonably assume that some percentage of every team’s fan base is LGBT(Q). As to the second point, Witeck’s extensive research on the subject has found that non-LGBT(Q) people show no reduced interest in companies who have inclusive practices.

Key Takeaways

  1. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are a small but important demographic of consumers. They are fiercely loyal, have meaningful buying power, and are avid sports fans.
  2. LGBT(Q) and LGBT(Q)-affirming sports fans will show more loyalty to sports teams and brands that are inclusive in their business practices, and less loyalty to those who are not inclusive.
  3. Making surveys inclusive makes your fans feel more valued, and helps you learn more about how to better serve some of your customers.