In just a few months the streets of Akron and Cleveland will set an international stage in Northeast Ohio, Aug. 9 through 16, when visitors, athletes and allies from around the globe arrive for Gay Games 9.
The impact from GG9 will play out on many levels.
Although formulas can be tricky to determine exact revenue, from what organizers now know the region may bring in about $40 million during the Games.
“We’re a relatively small community, so the Games have really put a spotlight on us that has never happened before,” said Tom Nobbe, GG9’s executive director. “This is a big deal for us, and we’ve really kind of stepped up and taken this on with the collaboration of folks from the non-LGBT community, which is what these Games are all about. It’s a catalyst for change.”
The first Gay Games was in 1982 and since then has been staged every four years. GG9 will present more than 35 sports, including basketball, bodybuilding, cycling, rowing, sailing and swimming, plus two cultural events, band and chorus. And most importantly, participants do not have to be LGBT or overly athletic to participate.
Seated with Nobbe is Dirk Breiding, vice president of sales for the Akron/ Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau who also serves on the GG9’s executive committee.
“One of the reasons we got the Games is because they (Federation of Gay Games) wanted to go into a community that would bring change,” Breiding said.
And that change has been substantial, with the extensive collaboration in the Akron-Cleveland community and beyond with the LGBT population and its allies, including neighborhood and faith-based organizations.
“We got a tremendous response from the community as far as sponsorship and have a number of great foundations who have contributed to the Games,” Breiding added.
Presenting the Games, which are open to those 18 and older regardless of sexual orientation and athletic prowess, is the Cleveland Foundation, which like other community foundations, works with donors to build community endowment to enhance the lives of its residents.
The Cleveland Foundation, Nobbe said, “was really huge for us.”
“It opened the doors for both corporate and small businesses. It was like, ‘Wow, if the Cleveland Foundation was coming in and partnering with the Gay Games …’ that kind of gave everybody else permission that this was a good thing.”
Akron Community Foundation also is pivotal to the Games.
In October, the Gay Community Endowment Fund of Akron Community Foundation announced that proceeds from its annual Sugar Plum Tour, along with a generous grant from Akron Community Foundation and two additional donors, would support the games in a big way, bringing the fund’s total commitment to a record $100,000 and making it a platinum sponsor and the official host sponsor of events held in Akron and Summit County.
The Games kick off on Aug. 9 with an Opening Ceremony at Quicken Loans arena. This ceremony aims to rival any Opening Ceremony of the Olympics. Besides the traditional parade of athletes by counties and states, Cleveland and Akron will be highlighted as an inclusive destination. This will be capped off with many national celebrities, including Lance Bass and Andrea McCardle, as well as a stunning closing act by the Grammy Award group the Pointer Sisters.
“It’s a show that not only highlights our two communities but shows the world how inclusive and diverse we are here in Northeast Ohio,” said John Garofalo, volunteer co-chair of the Opening Ceremonies and Vice President, Community Investment, at Akron Community Foundation.
Tickets may be purchased at the Quicken Loans arena website.
Nobbe said the three overriding goals for GG9 has been to “bring in participants, raise money and put on events.”
But when requests from groups that were not “core to those goals” started to come in, Nobbe said organizers had to develop a plan to get them involved with the Games.
So a community partnership program was created with three lead partners: CANAPI (Community AIDS Network/Akron Pride Initiative), The LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland and the Cleveland-based Plexus (Chamber of Commerce for the LGBT Community and its allies).
As of May, GG9 has signed contracts with 75 organizations who will be promoted as community partners, who will in turn promote the Games to their clients, customers and followers.
Breiding talked about the beginning of this four-year trek that brought GG9 to Northeast Ohio, when in 2010 a site selection committee was sent by the Federation of Gay Games.
“We didn’t treat them as if they were just another convention, another piece of business coming to our community,” Breiding recalled.
During a 2013 interview about GG9, Jim Mahon, director of marketing and communications for Akron/Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic and Summit County Executive Director Russ Pry were on hand in 2010 and “were part of the tours to underscore the seriousness of our bid, to show our special brand of hospitality.”
“They just raved about the facilities, the treatment, the accommodations … they were blown away,” Breiding remembered. “Once they returned home, they said they can’t wait to come back in the summer because Akron and Cleveland are going to put out the red carpet.”
Nobbe conceded that this area isn’t so much a go-to destination for many LGBT travelers but those who do visit are “savvy … and surprised when they come, the Parisians, Londoners and Germans, for example, they didn’t know what to expect because for them it was a different experience, but they felt totally embraced.”
And, Nobbe added, not all travelers prefer to visit the LGBT hot spots, the more touristy places such as Miami, Fort Lauderdale and San Francisco and “would rather have something more diverse.”
“I think one of the attractions of this area is that it’s the Midwest; people are genuine, it’s affordable, and there’s really a ton of things to see,” Nobbe said. “We all know when the weather warms up everything explodes, and there’s something going on all the time.”
Working in tandem with the Games, among other organizations, is the Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio, to “raise awareness issues, things of that nature,” Nobbe said.
Although much has been accomplished during the past four years by the Akron-Cleveland and global communities to host, prepare and send delegates to an event of this magnitude, planning continues until opening day.
“We’re continuing to target and market for Gay Games 9 all over the world,” Nobbe said. “We’ve got about 27 countries or so signed up and 47 states, with the exception of North Dakota, South Carolina and Mississippi.”
The Games needs about 3,000 volunteers, and 70 percent of those slots have been filled … “yet another example of how the community is rallying around this,” Nobbe said.
Rob Smitherman, associate executive director and director of events and operations for the Games, said regional scholarships have already been awarded for athletes who would like to participate in the Games but may lack the funding for registration fees. Thanks to more funding, scholarships are now being awarded to local athletes.
Breiding said he hopes Ohio will have the most delegates at the Games, and as of this writing the Buckeye State was just 10 delegates shy of California’s total delegates.
“This is a radical departure from past games, and the next games in 2018 will be in Paris, so we’re kind of an experiment in a way to see how the games can be transformative,” Nobbe said. “I say we’ve already been successful in a lot of ways. And if the idea is to transform hearts and minds, we’ve done a lot of that.”
For more information about Gay Games 9, visit gg9cle.com.