There is No Magic in a Unified Event (2015.06.15)

The declines in registrations for both Gay Games and World OutGames are quite real. But it is happening to all LGBT events, not just our multisport events. Only the Sin City ShootOut in Las Vegas is growing rapidly because of its simplicity: low costs, diversity, and 100% sports focus. It is also held every January. Sin City has equaled Gay Games quadrennial 2014 regisatrations and surpassed all World OutGames in registration. It is not the FGG/GLISA split that is the cause of these registration declines. The split has been a convenient political scapegoat for those who worship the concept of a unified LGBT in all aspects of life without doing the research. Few really knows why there is a split and nobody really cares either. They just want to PLAY SPORTS and have FUN. One Quadrenniel Event (1QE) and its reincarnation One World Event (1WE) are typical nice catch-all feel-good sound-bite phrases invoked emotionally (I call it kumbaya for lack of a better term) that really do not solve anything, and have some very negative consequences (cf: below under IMPLICATIONS). As a community organizer who has experienced fist hand the political success of LGBT sports, who is very interested in sports, still is involved coaching, and talks to competitors all the time in our Team San Francisco sports organizations, I can offer an analysis with gravitas. Check out my volunteerism and judge for yourself...

Team San Francisco has always been one of the largest contingents to a Gay Games. It is where the Gay Games began as the Gay Olympic Games, and it served as the incubator for a lot of other much larger LGBT sports groups like IGLA, IGBO, IGLFA, etc... going back to 1982.  I have been there from the beginning as a founding member of Team San Francisco. There is a LOT of very intelligent favorable LGBT financial and corporate power here in the San Francisco area that can be tapped if we are very careful with our Gay Games Brand & Mission management. These people are tough and committed. They have also been here through this entire 40 years of the LGBT Human Rights struggle and are not going to be easily fooled as witnessed by their concern about bequeathals.

There are two factors that IMHO have caused this #s decline in Gay Games and World OutGames:

1.      We are victims of our own success in the progressive areas of the world. Out LGBT athletes have far more options now as they mainstream and prove themselves. There is lots of data out there like with Athlete Ally, NIKE Coalition, etc.. that proves this. However this is not true in the rest of the world where Gay Games is really needed. In San Francisco, IAGLMA, WWB, IGLA, IGLFA, IGBO etc… are far bigger/richer than Team San Francisco. So we need to refocus ourselves on common Mission around our more powerful LGBT sports organization partners: they all have 501c3 non-profit status, have the resources, and are sports focused. 

2.      The financial disparities around the world for our LGBT communities have progressively been exacerbated in the past 20 years.. This has put pressure on the FGG and GLISA to address it through scholarship programs and distributed events like the Continental Games. These are not mutually exclusive strategies, but woefully inadequately funded.

We have all the registration databases from 1994 Gay Games through 2010. We have done extensive analysis while I was FGG Technology that I have forwarded repeatedly to the FGG Board and the current Hosts going back to Amsterdam 1998…. i.e…. who went where when and if there was a pattern.  I do not have Cleveland’s #s to analyze, and GLISA simply does not supply that level of detail for their events ( I had to interpret/infer from their sports results if it existed ). I would recommend that interested people especially contact the event & marketing people of Gay Games Sydney, Chicago, and Cologne who received this information as well as use of the database…. E.g…  Rob Smitherman who I worked closely with in Chicago, Cologne, and Cleveland (2006-1014).

I am collecting those analyses again for publication, as it is nothing new, but in the current circumstances of this discussion around the efficacy of a single unified event, I will summarize:

1. LAG: It is not a 4 year quadrennial lag, it is an 8 year lag  because of the geographical location issue that pushes the cost of attending out of reach depending upon where you live. Many of our target ‘Mission’ areas in the more remote regions of the world who really need the event, are simply excluded by finances. An 8 year hiatus to make connections is simply too little too late. This observation is reproducible by studying the rationale of IGLA, IGLFA, and the Bingham Cup (to name just 3 large events) to rotate their event around the oceans of the world. The FGG site selection has an implicit tendency to balance this as well, while GLISA’s WOGs site selection process much less so as it is not as public.

2. The Canard of Event Confusion: The most common rationale for a unified event is that registrants are confused about which event to go to. It is illogical to think that anyone in the LGBT sports community ready to spend ~$3-$4k is not going to do their research about Gay Games vs. World OutGames. There is more than enough data out there on-line to answer any concern. Yes there will be some who are looking for an LGBT 'Critical Mass' event to enhance the probability of meeting their life partner. Others are looking for a neat gay ghetto vacation spot. But most are looking for an opportunity to compete (especially the smaller sports). Everyone is looking for a reasonably priced combination of these. No LGBT athlete is looking to spend this kind of $$ and PTO on human rights conferences. We already have ubiquitous PRIDE events around the world annually and they are a dime a dozen. Gay Games is very unique.

2. Lack of Sport Competition Opportunities in the Outlying Regions of the World: The GLISA Continental Games have been the most successful ‘Mission’ events in the outlying parts of the world, especially GLISA-AP (Asia Pacific). While certainly not on the scale of a Gay Games, they do create interest, buzz, connection, and motivation… It gives hope where it is needed.. However in sports, especially many smaller sports, GLISA has no expertise. So the LGBT smaller sports organizations like IAGLMA and WWB have stepped up and created those connections so they can co-exist in GLISA-AP. The Aussies wrestlers are a perfect example of a vibrant growing younger group that needed connection, and have given the ‘Movement’ greater outreach & visibility in Australia/NZ.   This is real Mission.   

3. The Efficacy of Making human Rights Conferences a THIRD of Brand, Mission, and Resources: Past surveys of Gay Games registrants have made it clear that they have no time for conferences in a packed Gay Games schedule like VolleyBall, Aquatics, and Soccer. We have done surveys and took ~3 hours discussing it at an FGG Annual Meeting in Cologne coming to the same conclusion. That does not mean they should not be included, as they serve a purpose for getting VISAs from unfriendly countries, attracting some registrants, getting sponsors like a Walgreens, and it is an added event for those who are not competing parners/supporters. But they really are not as important to be deserving a THIRD of focus and resources in say Antwerp NL as they are in say Johannesburg ZA. The objection is that as we become more successful as a community, many of our LGBT athletes will simply choose the mainstream competition options, and that damages the critical mass of the LGBT quadrennial as well the as the ‘Athletic Image’ of the event.  It is already happening and it has consequences. It hurts the bottom line because having another Gay Pride + Conferences + some larger sport competitions will not be as attractive to our Athletic/Games community registrants as a traditional Gay Games with its broader range of sports diversity options. You only need to study the trend in PRIDE festivals worldwide to understand that Gay Games is very unique, and should not enter this glutted PRIDE and Conference market. It IS the SPORTS , Damn It (as Roger Brigham wrote in his Bay Area Reporter column).

1. More Frequent, More Affordable, Smaller Scope, More Diverse, More Distributed Events:  I am reminded of the parting words of 1994 Gay Games IV operations directors Roz Quarto & Steve Mumby (paraphrasing): “The scope of 30 sports was too big for any host to accomplish the Mission”. Since that time, people like Stuart Borrie and Rob Smitherman (Gay Games operation directors for Sydney and Chicago/Cleveland) have said similar things. In order to service our Mission properly, we need to engage our target peoples at least every 2 years with an event like a Gay Games and a World OutGames leveraging their people and their strengths. We do not need to reinvent the wheel to do this…. Control of LGBT sports calendar and SHARING resources will do it very nicely. We do not need yet another bureaucratic organization and a merger! There is more power in diversity.

2. Preserving Brand & Mission: In order to accomplish #1 above, we will need resources.. Human volunteer resources with the expertise/ability to technically do this, and financial resources to pay for it. Well first off that means we stop this ageist dismissing of older leadership as useless cogs, when they have the experience, skill sets, and RESOURCES to do this.  Today’s younger leaders do not have the luxury of time and resources that we all had 20-30 years ago.  It is a LOT tougher today because technology forces them to work more hours for less $$ and less vacation… ergo less volunteerism.

Forcing this unified event to abandon the Gay Games Brand and Mission will probably cost the FGG about ~$2mil (my most recent estimates from legacy people and foundations like the Roe Coe). What will happen to sponsorship opportunities then with a new Brand/Mission yet to be defined to be in place by 2022?   In the next 5-20 years, a lot of that FGG San Francisco bequeathal $$ will become available specifically for SCHOLARSHIPS and it is perfect for leveraging to support this ‘Mission’ we all share.   Should we just write it all off because of silly political disagreements about whose quadrennial event is bigger? We already know that answer, and so what, it gets us nowhere. 2022 site selection will be here before you know it (2016 !) without a Gay Games Brand Name & Mission, a bad signal to the legacy people revising their Wills.

The Team San Francisco Proposal deserves consideration because it reunites us all on the important stuff immediately that we all already agree on… PLUS… no more fights, no lawsuits, no loss of legacy, no loss of key people, no loss of sponsorship credibility, and most of all no loss of a lot of $$. From a MISSION PERSPECTIVE what exactly does a Unified Event enhance? I am sincerely trying to get more ROI analysis and less emotional 'unified community' answers. Future of the Gay Games BLOG for more information...


Gene Dermody

+1.415.373.8015 mobile/text
2x Federation President (Emeritus)
2014 Tom Waddell Award recipient
2010-2015 Team San Francisco Delegate
2015 National Gay Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame inductee