German sportswear maker Adidas will sponsor the World OutGames, a LGBT-focused sporting and human rights event that will be held in Miami later this spring.
The World OutGames—which first held an event in Montreal back in 2006—is a 10-day affair that draws athletes from more than 40 nations to participate in swimming, track and field, soccer, and other sporting events. It also hosts conferences that focus on human rights initiatives. “Besides the fact that Adidas is a significant player in the sports industry, [the sponsorship] also brings the recognition of a global entity,” said World OutGames CEO Ivan Cano. “Sports are sports. They don’t discriminate.”
The relationship between Adidas and the World OutGames—which the parties are describing as more a collaborative partnership rather than a strict sponsorship—is one of several moves that Adidas has made to promote outreach to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.
For example, just a few years ago, Adidas started selling a so-called “pride pack”—t-shirts, tank tops, and shoes that feature rainbow colors, representing the symbol that is closely associated with the LBGT community. Those shoes and apparel are often sold during the month of June, when many cities across the United States host their Pride Month events. Adidas is also among the major corporations to receive a perfect score for the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which recognizes corporations that adopt inclusive policies for that community.
Adidas North American President Mark King tells Fortune that the work Adidas is doing to reach out to this community makes sense for a few reasons. “First and foremost, it is a sports activity. And we are in the business of sport,” King said. “Second, I think the more we develop as a company, not just as a brand, the value placed on diversity and inclusion has become more and more important. We understand the world is about diversity.”
I asked King if Adidas was concerned about any potential risks with the partnership—especially in a world where social media can make anyone a critic. The brand could potentially see some pushback from those that don’t support the LGBT community.
In the run up to the 2016 presidential election and the months after President Donald Trump won, several companies have found themselves the targets of social-media driven protests for statements or corporate decisions that would have generated little fanfare in years past. Coffee giant Starbucks (SBUX) is a perennial target of these campaigns. And sportswear peer Under Armour (UAA) also found itself in a pickle after CEO and founder Kevin Plank expressed enthusiasm for President Trump’s pro-business stances.
King says he and the team at Adidas weren’t dissuaded by that trend. “I don’t think we are really worried about it. Companies have to have values,” King said. “But one big driving force for us as a company is diversity. When you have diversity, everyone needs to feel included.” He added the pact with World OutGames is one critical way to show that and has less to do with marketing and more about how Adidas views itself as a company.
Miami will host the World OutGames from May 26 through June 4.