The 2009 gays sports event in Copenhagen has been unsuccessful in wooing many corporate sponsors and faces a large budget gap.

Related: Games a year away

By Jim Buzinski

The 2009 Outgames, set for next summer in Copenhagen, Denmark, is running into the same difficulties that have plagued other worldwide gay sports events the past two decades. With little more than a year to go, the organizers have raised roughly half of what they have budgeted.

In 2007, for example, the Outgames organization raised only $31,000 in private donations, according to reporting in Copenhagen’s Nyhedsavisen newspaper. The group’s overall budget is $12.5 million, with $4.1 million coming from the city of Copenhagen, according to an Outgames report. Based on a hoped-for 8,000 participants, the group would get $2 million in registration fees. The remaining $6.4 million was expected to come from private sponsors; it is not determined whether the city or national governments would contribute more.“Something seems horribly wrong and this might lead to a financial disaster like Montreal [in 2006],” Danish journalist Lars Fogt told Outsports. The event’s CEO is also under fire for using Outgames money to attend a friend’s wedding in Texas.

The event, set for July 25 to Aug. 2, 2009, is the second world gay multisport competition planned under the Outgames banner. The first, held in Montreal in 2006, was considered an athletic success but a financial failure, with the organizers declaring bankruptcy and being $5 million in debt (Outsports is among the businesses owed money by Montreal 2006).

The Outgames 2009 will scale back “if we do not have enough money,” Copenhagen Outgames CEO Uffe Elbæk told Nyhedsavisen. “It's the clear rules of the game that are defined by the management.”

This spring, the Outgames has attracted an additional $793,000 in private sponsorships, Fogt said, plus $100,000 in airline tickets from SAS, the Scandinavian airline. The event's website lists only six organizations in its various sponsor categories. Among the organizations is Wonderful Copenhagen, the official tourist organization of Greater Copenhagen, which owns the 2009 Outgames, having formed it as a public limited company under recommendation from its largest financial backer, the Copenhagen City Council.

The Outgames is not denying the financial pressures it faces. In a status report on its website last year it bluntly stated: "Ultimately, it will be up to World Outgames Board … and also the two consultation groups — the political consultation group in City Hall and Wonderful Copenhagen consultation group respectively — to assess how long
we dare keep 'a cool head' with regard to the financing of project before starting to panic."

Fogt, who has been investigating the Outgames for months, said the event is not that widely known “even within Copenhagen’s gay community.” The city has sponsored the Outgames with an eye to the 2020 Olympics, hoping it can demonstrate an ability to host a large-scale sports event, he said.

The Outgames plans 38 sports in addition to cultural events and a human rights conference. The event is planning for 6,500 athletes and 1,500 cultural participants. However, Copenhagen might not have all the sports facilities ready in time for the event, Fogt said, and could hold swimming and tennis in Malmo, Sweden, located about 10 miles across the Strait of Orsund from Copenhagen. The Outgames website still lists both events in venues about 20 minutes from downtown Copenhagen.

The Outgames expects the bulk of its participants to come from Western Europe, North America and Australia. With the rival and more established Gay Games being held in Cologne, Germany, in 2010 and given the weakness of the American dollar versus Western European currencies, it is unclear how many participants from the U.S. will venture to Copenhagen. The city was ranked in 2007 as the sixth most-expensive in the world to live in. In addition, sports registration fees run $250 before Oct. 1 and $313 after.
“Besides the close proximity of Copenhagen and Cologne in terms of geographic location and timing, both events are courting the same target groups, media, sponsors and sources of funding,” the Outgames says on its website.

Wedding trip questioned

In addition to the budget gap, the Outgames is dealing with potential investigations from Danish politicians over how the money is being spent. Elbæk is under criticism for spending $1,900 of Outgames money to attend a private wedding of a good friend in Texas last year.

Of his trip to the November wedding, Elbæk told the Danish newspaper “that he had sound professional grounds for going to the wedding as the event gave him the opportunity to meet” potential sponsors. To date, the trip has not yielded any sponsors, the newspaper said. “When dealing with American foundations, it is extremely important to build up a mutual and personal confidence,” the CEO told the paper. "I saw it as a huge opportunity to save money and time by meeting lots of relevant people at the wedding instead of seeing them in a stressful office in New York.” The bride, Anne Livet, said that Elbæk could have met with the same sponsors while on a trip to New York to promote the Outgames.

“It sounds as if he has a problem with explaining the case,” professor of Public Administration at the University of Copenhagen, Tim Knudsen, told Nyhedsavisen. “And I am sure that the … auditing officials are going to be very precise in their investigation when they start their work. There is, of course, a limit for cases considered of minor importance, but this kind of a private trip with public funds goes far beyond the allowed limit.”

One conservative politician in Copenhagen, Peter Schlüter, told the paper, "I have no longer confidence in the management, which clearly doesn't have the necessary competence.” He said the event faces the same risk of financial failure as Montreal in 2006.
A member of the Copenhagen City Council agreed. “We have in any case given a large amount of money for this and that’s why we want to get an explanation as quickly as possible,” said Bjarne Frey. “If an event is financed with public funds, it has to be run by the ethical standards followed by public administration. That means also that no money is spent for private purposes.”

Elbæk still has his defenders, including Cultural mayor Pia Allerslev, who told the paper, “There hasn't emerged anything that causes me to waver. If more should emerge, we must look at it.”
In addition to the money-losing Montreal Outgames in 2006, Gay Games 1990 (Vancouver), 1994 (New York), 1998 (Amsterdam) and 2002 (Sydney) also lost money.
Only the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago managed to break even; that event raised a record $3.5 million in cash sponsorships. With the 2006 event on U.S. soil, home to most large corporate sponsors, this shows the steep climb Copenhagen faces as it tries to raise the remaining $6 million it budgeted for.