In a win for LGBT-owned small businesses across the U.S., Major League Baseball is announcing a partnership with the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) to help certified businesses become official suppliers for the MLB for the first time ever.
In an exclusive interview with Fortune, the NGLCC, which its website states is "a U.S. not-for-profit advocacy group that aims to expand the economic opportunities and advancement of the LGBT business community," highlighted the economic opportunities that the partnership represents. The announcement will be a centerpiece of the MLB's March 8-9 business diversity summit in Phoenix, Ariz., and will be discussed during panel discussions and workshops during the event.
" We take great pride in the fact that this not only puts us closer to Major League Baseball and the ability to bring innovative suppliers to their operation, but also that we get to work with incredible advocates and athletes like Billy Bean," Justin Nelson, founder and president of the NGLCC, told Fortune.
Bean, a former professional baseball player for the Detroit Tigers, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the San Diego Padres, was the first professional baseball player to come out publicly (in 1999) and is currently the MLB's first-ever Ambassador of Inclusion. He's been working with the NGLCC on the budding partnership. " We're looking forward to them helping us promote the initiatives that we have," he said. " It's important to me because I think it allows our community to get more coverage and exposure on the programs that [business owners are] working very, very hard to expand."
"The National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce is such a well-respected organization," Bean added, "and for them to feel that what they see in baseball is something they would want to align with, it's a compliment for the work that we're doing."
A small business must meet certain criteria to be eligible for NGLCC certification and, thus, be able to work with the MLB in the new partnership. "We work with over a third of the Fortune 500 right now," Nelson told Fortune. "A business that is 51% owned, operated, and controlled by an LGBT person or persons, apply for certification at NGLCC.org." The documentation then goes before a certification committee.
"They are either granted certification or denied based on lack of information, or most often it comes down to an ownership question where you may have a 50-50 ownership and the requirement is 51%," he added. " And so if it's not 51% owned by an LGBT person or persons, it's not eligible for diverse certification, and that's not unique to us." Nelson explained there are similar requirements for minority- and women-owned firms at other organizations.
It is unclear, however, the amount of money the MLB spends on such supplier initiatives in a given year. "NGLCC certified LGBT suppliers will help the MLB achieve the brass ring nearly all major corporations and organizations aspire to: a billion dollar spend on minority-owned businesses," Jonathan Lovitz, the NGLCC's vice president of external affairs, said in a statement. "While the exact figures for each corporation are often private, one thing we know from our experience in this field is that adding LGBT enterprises to a supply chain guarantees the increase in high-quality competitive bids that allow companies to continue raising their minority spend year over year."
The move by the NGLCC, which is based in Washington, D.C., comes on the heels of similar partnerships with the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and the National Football League (NFL) at this year's Super Bowl.
" I think there's not a high enough level of importance that we can put on partnerships like with the MLB [and] USTA, because it really does help tell the story of who we are as an LGBT business community," Nelson said. "It's not just businesses that may be stereotypical or everyone assumes would be an LGBT business, like a florist or an interior designer—and those are great business and I want all of them certified—but it's a lot of other things. It's facilities management. It's construction."
But why now? Nelson explained that there's been a "critical mass" of support for the LGBT community in recent days, especially with the recently announced Super Bowl Partnership and with public policy wins, such as with California and the passage of same-sex marriage as legal in 2015.
"Anyone that shuts off one group for another really is doing a disservice to themselves, to their fans, to their shareholders, and to their bottom line," he said.
For the future, Nelson said that the NBA "is squarely in my sight." The WNBA as well. "There's a lot of work to be done still," he said. "We're going to put foot squarely on the gas pedal—not on the brakes—and work to use this as an opportunity to expand our vision, our mission, and our connections with sports entities, sports leagues, and major corporations," he explained.
" I'm just so grateful that baseball is open to it now," Bean told Fortune. " I'm really optimistic about how they can help us and then how in turn that helps our community."
"It's incredibly inspiring for both budding entrepreneurs and those that have owned their company for many years to be able to compete for contracts anywhere that they possibly can including major national sports franchises and leagues," he said. " When you are submitting a proposal, it shows that you have worked with Major League Baseball."
"It puts your business in another league. No pun intended," Nelson said. "It really does."