“I came here to support hockey in the LGBT community,” said Jamison Lewis, 30, “and to watch my favorite team play.” Lewis, an LA native and ice hockey player himself was enthusiastic about the Kings’ second annual Pride Night at Staples Center. He attended with his boyfriend Michael Williams.
Mike Altieri, senior vice president of communications and team operations for the Kings would have been glad to know his team’s LGBT outreach efforts affected such loyal fans so positively.
Pride Night began “as part of the National Hockey League’s ‘Hockey Is For Everyone’ initiative,” said Altieri. What began as a single game “has now evolved into multiple games.”
“Hockey Is For Everyone” then became affiliated with another social change campaign called “You Can Play,” which is “dedicated to the eradication of homophobia in sports,” according to its website.
The Kings, said Altieri, “felt it was important to…drive awareness for the acceptance and inclusion of all individuals in our great sport of hockey.”
If the mood at Staples Center was any indication, hockey fans of all persuasions seemed to concur.
One example: public displays of affection. “The Kiss Cam is a random search of the crowd for willing participants,” said Altieri. A couple is framed by one of the numerous on-site video cameras. When the couple notices they are being shown on large screens hanging above the ice, they kiss. Several same-sex couples were featured and the auditorium responded with appreciative “Ooohs” and “Awwws.”
The Kings also reached out to LGBT organizations, creating a multi-dimensional aspect for those attending. “We had groups from the Trevor Project, You Can Play and the LA Blades out to the game,” Altieri said. “Each group set up an informational booth to engage with our fans.”
The LA Blades (no affiliation with this newspaper) are a regional gay hockey team. During one of the rest periods the Blades, in uniform, assembled in the visiting team’s players box as an announcer introduced them to the crowd. The players smiled and waved, the crowd cheered.
And, according to Altieri, AEG, the facilities management company that owns Staples Center, hosted the LA Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce at the game as part of a corporate diversity and inclusion initiative.
What’s the response been from Kings fans overall? ”We receive feedback via social media platforms and emails,” said Altieri. “Most, if not all, is extremely positive and supportive.”
The overall financial impact of Pride Night on Kings ticket sales is minor. “We sold 150 tickets though the Pride Night offer,” said Altieri, “which was a ticket and a pair of Pride Night socks.”
Still, the social benefits of supporting a multitude of communities is in line with many companies’ goals. “Differences with regards to race, gender, gender identity, age, national origin, disability, politics, sexual orientation, education, and religion,” said Altieri “[means] we are focused on building a culture that consistently promotes diversity.”
Kings players and coaches supported Pride Night. “All of our players,” said Altieri, “agreed to use Pride Tape on their sticks, and autographed commemorative LA Kings Pride jerseys that were auctioned off to benefit local LGBTQ organizations.”
On a table in the Staples Center team jerseys featuring players’ surnames and their number in a rainbow theme were laid out, along with hockey sticks used during that game’s warm-up featuring rainbow-colored tape wrapped around them.
How much money was raised? “$24,094 was the total for both the jerseys and sticks,” Altieri said. Jonathan Quick’s warm-up stick went for $275 while the autographed jerseys signed by Alec Martinez and Dustin Brown sold for $1,025 each. The highest bid was for a Pride jersey signed by the entire team at $1,276.
Pride-themed hockey tape is a thing. Two executives with Pride Tape, an Alberta-based social enterprise whose goal is to reduce the use of casual homophobia and transphobia in hockey, told me what inspired them.
“We wanted a campaign,” said Jeff McQuade, “that would speak to young people about the issue of equality and inclusion, particularly in sport.” The hockey market was important for two reasons. “One, it was in our own back yard in Edmonton, and, two, it was the last professional sport where there’s no openly gay [player].”
McQuade pursued his connections, including one with the Kings’ goaltending coach. “We talked to Bill Ranford, who’s a friend, talked to him about the landscape out there…and the possible acceptance for an idea like this.”
Recognizing the purchasing power of the rainbow segment, advertising messages supportive of and targeting the LGBT community appeared on the oversize screens suspended above the rink.
Blue Shield of California’s campaign “Love Covers All” featured a black-and-white photograph of two middle-aged men in an embrace. The insurance giant also screened a commercial narrated by an openly lesbian woman.
From the nonprofit advocacy side the Trevor Project screened facts about the risk of teen suicide amongst LGBTQ minors, closing with a call-to-action on how donors could give time and money.
As far as Pride Night swag, LA Kings t-shirts and caps with rainbow-tinged logos sold out fast, disappointing a number of would-be customers. Altieri promised to have more Pride Night-branded merchandise next year.
All Kings’ LGBT-inclusive efforts scored high with fan Lewis. “It’s great exposure for our community that anyone can basically go out there,” onto the ice, “no matter your sexuality, age, race, all that,” he said.
But there is one the Kings could have done better.
Having gone to the Anaheim Ducks’ recent Pride Night Lewis and Williams showed me a video on one of their smartphones: a drag queen rode the ice-smoothing Zamboni before the game, waving and blowing kisses into the crowd.
“I mean, they’re Anaheim,” Williams said. “We’re LA. We should at least match that.”
The LA Kings crushed the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 and are in a strong position heading into the playoffs. Hockey season continues through the first week of April. Tickets available at nhl.com/kings/tickets.