Did you know the running industry is ignoring a $1 trillion market in the United States? One that more than one-fifth of Gen Z adults identify as part of? A market that, according to the IRS, makes $63,000 more annually per household than the average consumer?
A demographic so lucrative that tourism boards across America and around the world are lobbying to host their events?
Yet even with these above stats, this consumer has been left on the sidelines by the vast majority of running brands and events, with only a select few targeting the niche.
Who is this gold mine opportunity I’m talking about? The LGBTQ+ Community.
Even as Marriott – a company owned and operated by Mormons – has been targeting this demographic for nearly 20 years, many industries, particularly the athletic and outdoor recreation industries, have been slow to chase the “Pink Dollar” of the LGBTQ+ community (the latter industry not including an openly gay man in an ad until 2018).
So why are brands like Wells Fargo, Oreo and the world’s largest company, Apple, begging for this consumer?
In addition to that $63,000 higher average income, in the United States only eight percent of male-male couples have children and 24 percent of female-female couples have children, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute. Compare that to the 40 percent of heterosexual people that have children.
Meaning, just as professional sports teams have been targeting LGBTQ+ people for season ticket sales over the past decade, they are more likely to have money and time to spend on themselves and their interests.
To go to an NBA game on a Tuesday night.
And buy merchandise.
In short: Being less likely to have kids makes this consumer more likely to have discretionary income, or to have time to travel for a race, go on a run, or shop in a running store.
So what can you do as a running retail shop to catch up to this market trend and capture this “unicorn” consumer?
While the running industry is still very new to targeted marketing with this community, there are a number of running brands leading the way, providing retailers with the simplest way to show the LGBTQ+ community you care about them.
Carrying Pride Products
June (Pride Month) is a great time to highlight that you carry products designed with the LGBTQ+ community in mind. But we are gay 365 days a year! So to truly capitalize on this opportunity, stock these products year round.
In doing so, you show that you aren’t just trying to “rainbow wash” your brand for one month a year, but that you are committed to continuous inclusion of this demographic whose purchasing power, as Fortune reports, rivals that of every racial minority group in America and is larger than the entire $887 billion the outdoor rec industry generates each year, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.
Some great product examples you can carry today include:
• Brooks Running’s “Run Proud” collection that has been updated every year since it started in 2019, which for 2023 includes shoes, shirts, socks and a hat.
• Smartwool’s 18 products using the colors of various community flags, including Lesbian, Transgender, Non-Binary, Aromantic, Pansexual and the classic rainbow in various forms.
• Chaco’s various sandals for pre/post-run use that include a partnership with the LGBTQ+ summer camp Brave Trails for the third year in a row.
• If you’re an event organizer and offering a beer garden, consider the many large brands with Pride themed bottling, or specific products brewed for June like Athletic Brewing’s “Rainbow Wall IPA.”
The Tifosi Example
While the offerings are still small in the running industry, that lack of competition should be seen as an opportunity to be a leader in this space. And this author has one exciting example of a running focused company bursting into the Pride scene as a leader for 2023: Tifosi Optics.
During The Running Event in 2021, I walked up to every booth and asked, “What are you doing for LGBTQ+ inclusion?” While “nothing” was the most common answer, Tifosi Optics saw the opportunity presented to them and went to work crafting a product line to be inclusive of this community.
The result is their new Be You Collection that features 10 designs that, like Smartwool, provide people the chance to show pride in their identity directly while running trails, their neighborhood or a marathon.
That ability to visually show the existence of LGBTQ+ people participating in this sport is crucial, because until very recently LGBTQ+ people simply weren’t shown in any industry advertisements or editorial coverage.
Providing people a way to represent themselves and communicate that identity to others around them is the first step in growing a sport where LGBTQ+ people feel more invited to participate (and spend their money on running products).
However, not every Pride product is designed for LGBTQ+ people!
Welcome to Outdoor Safe Space
While 20.8 percent of Gen Z, 10.5 percent of Millennials and a 7.2 percent average of all American adults identify as LGBTQ+, according to Gallup, there is a product that is specifically designed for the other 92.8 percent of American consumers: The Outside Safe Space.
The Outside Safe Space symbol has been made into pins, stickers, and patches that easily allow people in outdoor and athletic spaces a symbol to put on their apparel, gear or water bottles that communicates to everyone around them that they are an ally – a supportive person – to the LGBTQ+ community. (outsidesafespace.com)
These small products are easy additions to any retail shop, as the international brand Eddie Bauer is proving this June by selling them next to the cash register of their stores across North America.
Likewise, any running retailer can do something as simple as selling these small products, or as grand as creating your own custom product, promotion or event that attracts, speaks to and provides running opportunities to your local LGBTQ+ community.
CamelBak did this in 2022 with the creation of its first Pride product.
And Tifosi Optics is donating $1 from the sale of every product in their Be You Collection to the missional work of the Outside Safe Space program.
The best Pride collections (in the opinion of this writer who’s been studying them for the past eight years and both consulted and modeled for CamelBak on the launch of their first Pride product), are the ones that use the profits from their LGBTQ+ consumers to give back directly to the community, by supporting organizations or events that engender greater loyalty to the sport (and in turn, the brand).
Though many brands write a check to a generic LGBTQ+ nonprofit and wash their hands, why not use those profits to serve the LGBTQ+ runners who bought your product, all while earning yourself another PR opportunity to tell the story of your inclusive company?
Supporting LGBTQ+ Community
Opportunities abound, such as sponsoring or serving as the meeting point for your local International Frontrunners chapter (frontrunners.org) or financially supporting the new Queer Running Society (QRS) that launched last month as a clearinghouse to connect LGBTQ+ runner leaders with the running industry
Another easy option available today would be to reach out to your local city’s Pride organization. Most large cities host an inclusive Rainbow/Pride Run that can always use sponsorships. And if they don’t yet have a Rainbow Run in your city, let this article be your motivation to start one and have your store or brand associated as a leader reaching out to this lucrative community.
So as Pride Month is in full force, here are three Quick Steps you can take to tap into the $1 trillion purchasing power of America’s LGBTQ+ community:
1. Start selling Pride products in your store as a way to show support for this historically marginalized running demographic.
2. Give back to the local LGBTQ+ community as thanks for them giving you their dollars.
3. Sponsor or start a Rainbow Run or other group/event providing running opportunities to the LGBTQ+ community.
Happy Pride Month, from this unicorn!
About the author
Mikah Meyer is a professional speaker and advocate specializing in LGBTQ+ inclusion for corporations and nonprofits. He has delivered keynote presentations on the benefits of LGBTQ+ marketing from FedEx headquarters to the U.S. Trail Running Conference. He regularly consults major brands on creating their first Pride products, particularly for outdoor and athletic companies.
He can be reached at