The NBA is teaming up with LGBT entrepreneurs, and that's good business for both

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In welcome news for LGBT business owners across the U.S., the National Basketball Association (NBA) has partnered with the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group founded in 2002, to create more opportunities for such business to work with the league.

The move, shared exclusively with CNBC, exemplifies a step forward for the NBA's diversity and inclusion efforts and comes as other sports leagues have partnered with the NGLCC, which represents an estimated 1.4 million LGBT business owners in the U.S., in recent years.

The LGBT community in the U.S. has buying power estimated at nearly $1 trillion, according to Bloomberg, which underscores the economic benefits for sports leagues to gain support from business owners of that population.

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The partnership, which kicked off in December, helps LGBT-run businesses become suppliers for the NBA more easily after gaining certification from the NGLCC, which operates local chapters across the U.S.

The NGLCC worked with Super Bowl 51 in Texas earlier this year, Major League Baseball and the Professional Golf Association in 2016, Super Bowl 50 in 2015 and the United States National Tennis Association in 2014, among others.

One LGBT-run business' path to the Super Bowl

Partnerships like those between the NBA and the NGLCC help LGBT-run businesses bid on contracts to work at major sporting events where they might otherwise be overlooked. For companies certified by the NGLCC, which includes having a majority of the company led by an LGBT-identifying employee, it can mean anything from helping the NBA run games to handling day-to-day operations at the league's headquarters.

I just felt it was an almost once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of such a huge event.
Jeff Henningsen
business owner

Take, for instance, catering company Jim Benton of Houston, which became certified as an NGLCC small business in time for Super Bowl 51 earlier this year. As a result, the business had the chance to serve as one of 40 caterers at the official Super Bowl tailgate party, which fed over 10,000 people, after being thoroughly vetted by the NFL.

Without being certified by the NGLCC and without the NFL partnership, it may have been more difficult to win the contract.

"I just felt it was an almost once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of such a huge event," says Jeff Henningsen, who runs the catering business with his husband Jim Benton.

"Corporate America does have a responsibility with [helping] keep rights for every body," he says. "If it weren't for the grassroots activities of groups like the NGLCC, it would be a harder road to go down."

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Being inclusive can be good business

Beyond the value as a step forward for equal rights in the workplace, the move showcases how corporations and entrepreneurs stand to gain economically from partnerships focused on being more inclusive.

"The NBA is recognizing that it's not only the right thing to do but it's smart business," says Justin Nelson, the president of the NGLCC, in an exclusive interview with CNBC. "There's a market there and there are potential businesses to drive attendance and to better manage production of everything that goes into the season and the teams."

Diversity also means diversifying the revenue stream.
Justin Nelson
president, NGLCC

"I think it again reinforces the fact that a major sports league, now multiple, truly recognized the value of diversity and inclusion," he explains. "I don't mean the checkbox value that we've done something [so] we can look good, this is the true value that when you have diversity of opinion, diversity of thought, diversity of product offering, diversity in your audience diversity [you] create a better atmosphere that could be more productive."

"And, frankly, in the interest of what we're doing could be more profitable and there's nothing wrong with being more profitable," says Nelson. "Diversity also means diversifying the revenue stream."

"We're really proud of our record as a leader in diversity and inclusion particularly among sports leagues," says Oris Stuart, the NBA's chief diversity and inclusion officer, in an interview with CNBC. "We see ourselves as being an icon for social change, achieving equality and acceptance."

He adds that the NBA is excited to continue work with the NGLCC to "expand our reach and [be] even more inclusive in the diverse supplier community."

"We're starting to see some of the outcomes already," explains Stuart. "Our objective through this partnership is we will have greater awareness in the LGBT business community of our interests and our need to be inclusive economically."

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"There's strength in numbers"

For the future, Nelson wants to see more sports leagues join the NBA, NFL and MLB collaborate with LGBT-owned businesses. "There's strength in numbers and when you see your colleagues in the industry," he says, "embracing diversity, embracing inclusion and embracing economic development in diverse communities you want to be a part of that."

"It's an incredible testament to the world of professional sports that a business can be LGBT owned, can be out about it and can still compete for business with the national sports leagues," he adds.

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