(This story was published in 2001).
There was superstar slugger Sammy Sosa, swinging a bat in an ad for the Chicago Cubs 2001 season. On the full-page ad along with Sosa's picture was the team's schedule and ticket information.
It's the same kind of print ad that major league baseball teams run in hundreds of publications each year. But the masthead on this particular ad was different: Chicago Free Press. A weekly gay newspaper.
In what may be a first, the Cubs this season agreed to publish 10 full-page display ads in the Free Press. The ads started in February and to date nine have run.
The Free Press trumpets the advertising deal as the first between an American male pro sports team and an exclusively gay publication. Some teams in the Women's National Basketball Association have marketed directly to lesbians, but Outsports could find no other examples of a men's team targeting the gay market.
``It was an easy no-brainer,'' said Annie Kleiser, manager of special events and entertainment for the Cubs, adding that Wrigley Field is ``smack dab in the middle of the gay neighborhood.''
The driving force behind securing the deal was Free Press advertising representative Bill Gubrud, 28, a Windy City native and longtime Cub diehard. Gubrud's approach was simple: Convince the Cubs it made good business sense to advertise to the gay and lesbian market.
``If you advertise to the gay market, people become more comfortable going into an establishment that accepts them,'' he said.
Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs, borders Chicago's ``Boy's Town,'' a concentrated gay strip filled with bars, clubs and restaurants, and home to an estimated 40,000 or so gays and lesbians. Since the service workers at these businesses work nights and the Cubs play 62 day games a year, Gubrud reasoned, this was a market waiting to be tapped. Providing data about the high disposal income of many gays and lesbians also factored in.
Kleiser convinced her bosses with the Cubs to say yes, and the deal was reached this past winter. Gubrud would not say how much the Cubs paid for the ads, and Kleiser would only say ``they gave us a great deal.''
The Cubs' decision was not fueled by any sense of making a social statement, Kleiser said. Simply, before the Free Press presented its data ``we never thought of it … and I live in the neighborhood,'' she said.
The team's outreach has been a big hit among gay fans, said Gubrud, and will extend even further on June 23 during a promotion called ``Out at the Ball Game.''
On that day, when the Cubs play the Milwaukee Brewers, 2,000 gays and lesbians will have a section of Wrigley to call their own. The Free Press had little trouble selling 2,000 tickets to the promotion once the ads started to appear, Gubrud said. Local bars and some charities purchased blocks of tickets. People who could not get their hands on the ``gay tickets'' have bought some elsewhere at Wrigley that day just to get inside, he said.
``The idea is to go have fun,'' Gubrud said, adding that the game is the day before Chicago's annual gay pride parade (in keeping with the baseball theme, former umpire Dave Pallone is the parade's grand marshal). ``You can show your pride at the one place you normally can't show it.''
The crowd in the gay section will certainly be diverse. Bars that bought tickets, Gubrud said, included those geared to leathermen, circuit boys, older men, yuppies and the dance crowd. Throw in purchases by a strip club and a bathhouse and you'll have a wide range of gay archetypes amongst the ivy-covered walls.
Gubrud credits the Cubs with being very helpful and supportive of the event, going so far as to allow a local singer he recommended to sing the National Anthem that day.
With the surprising Cubs in first place (this is a franchise that hasn't won a World Series since 1908 and not even appeared in one since 1945) and with the success of the ad campaign Gubrud is feeling proud. After all he straddles both worlds. ``I'm a diehard Cub fan and I'm gay.''