Outgames' spectacular flameout

  • Thursday June 1, 2017
Share this Post:

Forget the flame being extinguished at the conclusion of the games. In the case of Outgames Miami, the flame was never lit. Opening ceremonies, the vast majority of sporting events, and the closing ceremonies were abruptly canceled last Friday �" the start of the competition �" just as some LGBT athletes had arrived and others were en route.

What a calamity. What a waste. What a major disappointment for the participants.

As several gay sports writers have opined in recent days �" and as our sports columnist foresaw in late March �" Outgames is finished.

The Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association, or GLISA, which licenses Outgames to the bid cities, has much to explain, as do the Miami-based Outgames officials. We got a call from Outgames' PR flack, Michael Goodman, last Monday, letting us know that Outgames would no longer speak to Jock Talk columnist Roger Brigham because he was asking too many questions. "It's not in our best interest" to respond, he told us. In hindsight, it's clear why Goodman didn't want to answer questions �" organizers knew there would be no sporting event. Outgames Miami CEO Ivan Cano was desperately hoping for a Hail Mary pass. Outgames had already received a $200,000 donation from the city, according to the Miami Herald, which had extended other generous benefits like extending permitting deadlines and waiving fees. Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales told reporters last weekend that the city is already working on an audit of the organizers' finances.

Unsurprisingly, the Herald reported that city staff was worried about Outgames' financial stability in March.

"Even the total budget was unclear late in the process, according to financial statements provided to the city," the paper reported. "When the Outgames first persuaded the Beach to commit to a sponsorship, organizers estimated a budget of between $5.35 million and $11.1 million. When the city got an updated budget that range went down to about $2.5 million to $3 million.

"By late March, financial records show the Outgames had $31,499 on hand with anticipated expenses of about $2 million," the Herald noted. "As the opening weekend approached, organizers grew panicked. An elected official who spoke with the Herald on the condition of anonymity said Cano sent a text message late Thursday asking for $250,000 �" a quarter-million-dollar request two days before the start of the games."

It's clear that even if Outgames had secured the $250,000, many venues didn't appear to be ready and numerous sports had already been canceled.

Holding a large, multi-sport event is rarely a money-maker (just look at the Olympics). And Outgames has a long history of red ink, starting with its first event in 2006, which reportedly lost millions of dollars. No financial figures or attendance numbers have ever been provided for Outgames 3 in Antwerp (2013), which drew fewer athletes than Outgames 2 in Copenhagen in 2009. In fact, the one accurate thing about Outgames seems to be that each event has fewer participants. With that track record, it's obvious that the Outgames model is not financially viable.

But it's the utter lack of transparency, half-truths, and lies by Outgames that are really detrimental to the LGBT sports community and its fans. GLISA and Outgames have a problem releasing accurate information so that people can make an informed decision about whether to spend all that money to participate. It's not free to be in Outgames. There are registration fees, travel expenses, and other costs. This year about 2,000 LGBTQ athletes were willing to shell out that money, but given that Outgames had initially projected 15,000 athletes �" a number that Brigham noted has never been achieved by any LGBTQ sporting event �" it was obvious that the math wouldn't add up.

The next challenge in this sorry tale will be borne, fairly or not, by the Federation of Gay Games, which stages its event in 2018. Fortunately, FGG has safeguards and oversight built into its model, and the federation keeps tabs on the host cities. While FGG has had its own issues, in recent years it has upped its game, probably spurred on by the disastrous Outgames. To many people, however, there's no distinction between FGG and GLISA (partly due to merger talks the two groups have had over the years, though no such combined event ever materialized). And that's what FGG will have to contend with. FGG should immediately work with athletes planning to attend Gay Games, as well as sponsors and others so that it is clear the event is fiscally responsible. It should also educate the larger community about the differences between FGG and GLISA. We know gay groups are often loathe to criticize one another, but after the meltdown in Miami, it's time for action. It's time for people to understand that Outgames has always put more emphasis on the parties than the playing field. And last weekend the community was shown a stark reminder of how fragile and unsustainable that model is.