JetBlue’s Social Campaign Supports J Collins’ Courage

Over the last few weeks we’ve seen the convergence of politics and sponsorship right across the landscape: from gun legislation, through human rights, to sexuality.


First the National Rifle Association sponsored a Sprint Cup race and plastered its logo across the centre of the track and throughout the venue while the US Congress battled over gun control legislation.


Then there was the lack of F1 sponsorship activation at the Bahrain Grand Prix, while news outlets reporting the controversy carried images of a protest graffiti image of a Ferrari car complete with Shell logo.


Now Jason Collins has become the first openly gay professional athlete in a major US sport.


Sports Illustrated received five million story views in the first two hours after it posted the article and several brands, both sponsors and non-sponsors, have been showing support for the NBA player’s courage.


Nike, the brand endorsed by Collins, issued a short statement after the announcement saying: ‘Jason is a Nike athlete. We are a company committed to diversity and inclusion. We admire Jason’s courage and are proud that he is a Nike athlete. Nike believes in a level playing field where an athlete’s sexual orientation is not a consideration.’


Interestingly, Nike has also recently sponsored women’s basketball star Brittney Griner, the first 2013 WNBA draft pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft, who also openly discussed her sexuality in Sports Illustrated.


Perhaps a more interesting mini social media campaign came within a few hours of Collins’ announcement from airline JetBlue.


It posted a picture, created by its ad agency Mullen, across its social sites showing a rainbow image of the “i-people” from the company’s “You Above All” brand campaign.


The image, and its accompanying copy which read ‘Thanks Jason, today we’re all on the same team‘, showed the brand’s support for Collins.


The message was posted to the brand’s Twitter and Facebook sites and generated a mixed response. While most fans and followers lauded the airline for supporting Collins, a handful of dissenters commented that they wished the company had stayed ‘neutral’ on the issue.


Absolut USA, a brand that has championed gay rights for years with campaigns ranging from its Absolut Coming Out Colours work


through its Absolut Support for gay marriage initiative,


to its sponsorship of Dubline’s Gay Theatre Festival (see previous case study) also tweeted its support for the athlete.


The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) also created its own supportive image and urged its followers to share the image socially.


Elsewhere, the league announced its support of the LGBT community via message from NBA, commissioner David Stern through Twitter which said: ‘Jason has been a widely respected player and teammate throughout his career and we are proud he has assumed the leadership mantle on this very important issue,’ and used the hashtag #NBAFamily.


While Ernie Grunfeld, the President of Collins’ Washington Wizards team also released a statement that shows his support of Collins:


‘We are extremely proud of Jason and support his decision to live his life proudly and openly. He has been a leader on and off the court and an outstanding teammate throughout his NBA career. Those qualities will continue to serve him both as a player and as a positive role model for others of all sexual orientation.’


There were also a number of high profile NBA players who reached out in support through Twitter: these included Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash (who tweeted ‘The time has come. Maximum respect’.)


While other celebrities – from President Barack Obama to film director Spike Lee and comedian Ellen DeGeneres – also expressed support.


Jason Collins, 34, made his big revelation in the Sports Illustrated magazine May 2013 issue.




Of course, any courage on a brand’s behalf is overshadowed by the player’s own bravery, nevertheless it does show that companies are prepared to speak out in support of issues they believe in and values that they stand for.


The JetBlue campaign is another example of how tuned-in brands can respond to significant events in real-time and take part of the serious debate (as well as everyday consumer conversation).


Collins’ announcement may well be followed not just by social media activity, but by fully-fledged big brand endorsement deals?


But perhaps what Collins himself most wants is a concrete NBA contract for next season.




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