Fresh Urgency Around Brand Support for LGBTQ+ People During Super Bowl

A community wish list for 2023

My only time seeing a Super Bowl ring in-person was at an NYC gay leather bar. To borrow an old joke, let’s get one thing straight: professional football isn't. 

Carl Nassib is the out face of queer players on the field, as representation of what's next but also what’s past: LGBTQ+ players who remained in the background (and sometimes in the bars) since the game's earliest days. Last year's Super Bowl logo was created by an accomplished trans woman designer. The league itself has made ongoing commitments to the conversation through "Football Is for Everyone." And the title of that discussion platform rings true: the fans of football have always been a cross-section of humanity, even when we weren’t all actively included. 

Given how central football is to American culture, fans of the game may very well be as LGBTQ+ as the general public.

At least through the ads, we were recently getting a growing acknowledgment of our devotion to and investment in the game. Until suddenly we had much less, as GLAAD assessed that 2022 Super Bowl commercials featuring LGBTQ people were down 90 percent from two years prior. And though we’re in teaser season for brand presence and content, unless I’m missing something, no brands are foreshadowing a spotlight on LGBTQ+ stars or cultural themes in this year’s spots. (I thought we had one, but then remembered Mr Peanut isn't gay. Sigh.) I suspect this doesn’t bode well for the volume of LGBTQ+ talent brought in behind the lens of the spots either.

This cultural moment that’s continuously designed to include the largest number of spectators – built by the league and its brand sponsors—aid, "Now we see you… now we don't." And I’m truly hoping that’s not the case in 2023, given the degree to which our community's current rights and safeties are being treated as a political football. (Pun f***ing intended.) The big game has historically been a day of surprises, and I hope we’re all pleasantly surprised at how brands who claim to love us in June show up for us in February—during a time where we need their visibility and platforms more than ever. 

And I hope they show up in creative ways, because we'll need creative connections to remind the world why we enjoyed—at least temporarily—a boom in queer culture at the Super Bowl. Because we have an outsized impact on shaping pop culture, and if you want 20 percent of Gen Z to keep coming to your party, you have to acknowledge how long we’ve been cheering you on. 

To set the stage for what our community needs and wants, some members of the community have generously provided—like last year—an LGBTQ+ Wish List for Brands at the Super Bowl.

A Wish for Collaboration: "I want queer creative directors, copywriters, and designers producing Super Bowl ads. I want them on sets and behind the cameras. I want a rainbow supply chain behind these ads. Of course, we love to see diverse, accurate representation on-screen, but what happens behind the scenes is just as important."
—Ro Kalonaros (She/Her), global director, content + culture, Omnicom

A Wish for Investment: "67 percent of Americans watched Super Bowl 2022; 57 percent of LGBTQ+ people identify as fans. It's not your old, straight dad's game anymore. From 'Football is For Everyone' to stenciling end zones with ‘End Racism,' to social justice helmet decals, the NFL is on track. But I’d love more inclusive action to match the talk. Create an NFL culture where players who come out don’t risk their career or earning potential. While it was great that the NFL donated $100K to the Trevor Project (matching Nassib’s personal donation), that's a drop in the bucket of their $17 billion in revenue."
—Alan Brown (He/Him), founder + chair, DNA

A Wish for Togetherness: "It is due time to celebrate the trailblazers who pave the way and create inclusion, so others can stand proud and share their stories with the world. We are ready, we are watching. By demonstrating through genuine brand actions that bring to life a message of welcoming inclusion, the NFL can continue to make the Super Bowl a special time for all families to gather, cheer, and celebrate what truly matters: unity and love for the sport and each other. Now, pass the dip!"
—Deyvis Rodriguez-Luther (he/him), SVP, group strategy director, McCann New York

A Wish for Tomorrow: "If a brand leverages queer representation in this year's Super Bowl, how they do it will be a litmus test in the eyes of millennial and Gen Z consumers. I'm hoping a brand takes a gutsy swing and spotlights timely topics, like how we're failing trans people and queer youth in this country—and what we need to do about it. Look for brands that go beyond representation alone and use their airtime to assert a message. These are the companies that will quietly gain market share in coming years."
—Nick Wolny (he/him), founder + consultant, Hefty Media Group

A Wish for Change: "Advertising during the Super Bowl barely scratches the surface of representation. The mistake is focusing on what people can ‘tolerate’ instead of what is real. Where is our trans representation? Our Black trans representation? Just putting out there what we think might pass as 'acceptable' is unacceptable. Inclusivity means each individual should see a reflection of themselves in advertising. Inclusivity means challenging this historically heteronormative sport. It’s one thing to take ad dollars and show more queer representation; it’s another to create an environment where players feel comfortable coming out. To succeed, marketing must influence the fan base and change the ranks."
—Christopher Kokinos (he/him), director of creative design + innovation, The Mixx

A Wish for Respect: "I see immense value in ‘everyday’ representation of LGBTQIA+ people in ads. In other words, not every story needs to overtly center on their queerness. Sometimes, simply casting a queer person is enough. However, Super Bowl LVII is not an everyday occasion. Nor is 2023 an ordinary time for queer people. With our rights as a community under siege, my wish is for brands who claim allyship to use their Super Bowl platform boldIy. That means promoting radical queer joy, inclusive storytelling, and urging action against hate. If you're not showing up big, don't bother."
—Billy LePage (he/him), associate strategy director, McCann New York

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Graham Nolan
Graham Nolan (he/him) is co-chair, storytelling and partnerships, at Do the WeRQ.

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