Just more than four years ago, Chicago's Jake Lenz was searching for other LGBTQ individuals who worked in sports and entertainment as connections. When he did not find who, or what, he was looking for, he knew something had to change.
Lenz, a sponsorship marketing specialist and Good Sports and You Can Play Project regional board member, met Jim Andrews at a conference in Chicago in 2015. That was a game-changer for him. Andrews, who worked at the sponsorship firm IEG for 31 years and was the About Face Theater board chair for five years, quickly became a mentor to Lenz because he was the only other out gay industry professional he knew.
Due to Andrews' mentorship, Lenz was able to meet other out professionals and grow his network and that is when the idea of HomeField Alliance came to fruition. Lenz said this is the first organization of its kind focused on the business side of the sports and entertainment industry. So far, HomeField Alliance has a growing membership from around the U.S. and Canada.
Lenz and Andrews decided to join forces with David Slade, WFYI-Indianapolis Public Media's chief development and marketing officer who previously led the United States Tennis Association's LGBTQ employee resource group, as co-founders and board members in 2017 with Noel Guevara coming onboard as a board member earlier this year. Guevara is the Arizona Diamondbacks' special events and community outreach coordinator who launched LGBTQ initiatives for the team, including its first Pride Night.
Andrews said the name came from the "core of what we were creating, which was a passionate community of people rooting for each other, and creating a positive environment of support. This is clearly exemplified by the support a team feels from its fans while playing in their home town. Win or lose, those fans are there to help push their team to success, amplifying each others' cheers week after week, season after season, giving their team that home field advantage."
The mission, according to its website is,"to be the leading voice and resource for LGBTQ professionals in the business of sports and entertainment. Offering professional development, networking and at-work ally programs, in addition to creating industry awareness and conversation, HomeField Alliance will provide our members with the opportunity to learn, grow, and develop in their professional careers regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity."
Andrews explained that they decided to make Chicago the organization's headquarters because it is centrally located and easily accessible to host events.
"From a sports and entertainment perspective, Chicago is one of the premiere cities in the world," said Andrews. "Chicago's teams and venues have storied histories, wildly passionate fans and an incredible ability to create community, even when we would be called crazy elsewhere, for leaving our homes in the middle of winter for an outdoor event. Our city also boasts some of the best corporate citizens of sports in the world, whether it's an equipment manufacturer or a sponsor focused on making sports and entertainment a core of their marketing efforts."
In terms of what the organization wants to accomplish, Slade said "in a big way, we hope to legitimately impact the culture within the sports and entertainment industry by giving employees and organizations the tools to create inclusive environments, removing stigmas around the LGBTQ community and by fostering community across cities and between organizations. In a small way, we hope that by connecting LGBTQ professionals to other individuals, they have the chance to learn from and connect with people who they otherwise might not have been able to do so with."
As for how they are going to address gender and racial diversity within their leadership ranks, Lenz said it is one of their top priorities.
"We cannot advocate for diversity unless we start from a place of diverse thought, background and experience," said Lenz. "It is that simple, so it is a sticking point for our entire board to make sure that while we now have male, female, gay, lesbian and African-American representation, we continue to add differing views and perspectives in order to provide the best possible impact for all our members."
The organization launched its mentorship program in September, and will be hosting some regional events next year and a member summit next summer.
Membership fees are $40 annually, and any membership purchased in 2018 will be good through the end of 2019. Any inquiries should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org .
See homefieldalliance.org/ for more information.