Michael Sam Saga Expected To Expand NFL Fan Base
NEW YORK - Years before Michael Sam was born, gay-rights activists Kate Kendell and Paul Guequierre were already die-hard National Football League fans.
Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, grew up in Ogden, Utah, far from any NFL city, and became a fan of the Los Angeles Rams because she’s an Aries and liked their uniforms.
For Guequierre, raised in Whitewater, Wisconsin, and now a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, it was a family affair. Treasured season tickets for the Green Bay Packers were acquired by his grandfather, passed on to his father, and now are his. The cover photo of his Facebook page shows the towering statue of a Packers wide receiver.
For Kendell, Guequierre and other gay fans of the NFL, their passion for pro football was rewarded May 10 with a moment they describe as thrilling: the decision by the Rams - now of St. Louis - to make Sam the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team.
"I feel like my support for the NFL now doesn’t have an asterisk come with it," Kendell said. "It’s now truly America’s game."
The milestone has made gay fans more enthusiastic and already is drawing newcomers into the fold. Many may become Rams fans or - like Guequierre - henceforth consider St. Louis "my second favorite team."
The NFL says it hasn’t done any marketing research to gauge the size of its gay and lesbian fan base. Gay sports fans surveyed by Outsports said pro football was their favorite sport by far.
Outsports co-founder Cyd Zeigler said that Sam - if he makes the Rams’ roster - will further boost the NFL’s popularity among gays.
"People who have never liked football are buying Michael Sam jerseys," he said. "People who have never watched a game watched the draft."
As of midweek, Sam’s Rams jersey was the No. 2 seller among rookies at NFLShop.com, trailing only Johnny Manziel, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback drafted by the Cleveland Browns.
Sam - although drafted 249th out of 256 players - also was among just 10 draftees selected by the league to be featured on special bronze and silver commemorative coins, according to NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy.
Howard Bragman, a public relations expert who has been working with Sam, expects the NFL and advertisers to capitalize on fans’ excitement over Sam’s debut.
"The first time he plays, you’re going to have huge numbers watching," said Bragman, the vice chairman of Reputation.com.
"The NFL is a business," Bragman added. "It understands very well that LGBT fans are passionate, they have good incomes, they’re concentrated in NFL cities."
Sam already has done a nationally televised ad for Visa.