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Jason Collins: Will gay athletes bring in big sponsorship bucks?

Jason Collins, the first openly gay athlete competing in a major professional American sports league, could be the first to benefit from major sponsors looking for a new way to target advertising dollars. Will other gay athletes follow Jason Collins? 

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Jason Collins, then with the Boston Celtics, posed at the team's training facility in Waltham, Mass., Sept. 28, 2012. An NBA veteran center, Mr. Collins has become the first male professional athlete in the major four American sports leagues to come out as gay. Collins wrote a first-person account posted Monday, April 29, 2013 on Sports Illustrated's website.

Michael Dwyer / AP / File

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Jason Collins's decision to come out as an openly gay male athlete will serve as a test case for U.S. sports leagues, his future teammates, and fans.

Not to mention Madison Avenue.

Mr. Collins, a veteran center in the National Basketball Association (NBA), on Monday became the first male athlete active in a major U.S. team sport to reveal himself as gay, a moment that could be a watershed for advertisers.

Backing an openly gay male athlete with an endorsement deal is not without risk for corporate marketers who are due to spend an estimated $20 billion this year on sports sponsorships, pitching shoes, beer, and cars to consumers who have varying views on gay rights.

Nike, for one, was quick to offer support. "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," the sports apparel and shoe company said in a statement.

A Nike spokesman said the company does not discuss the details of its contracts with athletes.

Other companies could also be supportive, given the huge marketing opportunity presented by a gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual community that contributes $790 billion annually in spending to the U.S. economy, according to Bo Witeck, a gay-marketing strategist and corporate consultant.

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