Pink edition: Pink a prevalent color in sports world

Valley sporting events a key way to raise breast cancer awareness, funds

October 2, 2013 

The Idaho Steelheads have raised more than $89,000 through their five jersey auctions at CenturyLink Arena.

STEVE CONNER — Courtesy of the Idaho Steelheads

The signs outside Idaho Sporting Goods on State Street proclaim, "Pink gear in stock."

Inside, it isn't just pink shirts or shorts, but football gloves, mouth guards, sweatbands and socks.

On the field or in the stands, pink has become a new tradition in nearly every sport across the United States.

"It's become a pretty big deal," Idaho Sporting Goods owner Nick Brady said. "Every October, we get a lot of people coming by asking for it, and each year we've tried to bring in more and more of it."

Pink is not a regular color on any uniform, in any sport. And it's certainly not a regular part of an athlete's wardrobe.

That is part of the reason why the business of pink has become so effective — and so noticeable — as sports teams and their marketing departments work together every year to help promote breast cancer awareness and raise funds.

"Sports draw such a huge audience, and you can't help but notice when it stands out like that," said Renee Hawkins, the director of breast care services at St. Luke's Regional Medical Center. "It appeals to men and women, and seeing it will help them start thinking about it, what can be done."

The message is perhaps as necessary in the Treasure Valley as anywhere. Hawkins noted that Idaho is last in the United States in breast cancer screening rates.

From the Idaho Steelheads hockey team to the Idaho Stampede basketball team and to Canyon County's two major summer rodeos, the pink-themed nights have become marquee dates on the Treasure Valley sports calendar. The events raise money to help local hospitals provide free mammograms to women who cannot afford it.

Both minor-league teams that play in CenturyLink Arena auction off game-worn pink uniforms — the Steelheads raised $14,625 last December and the Stampede $6,781 in February through auctions alone, with additional money raised through raffles and in-arena donations.

"Every year, we have guys on that team that have been directly affected by breast cancer,'' Steelheads President Eric Trapp said. "We've had people on our staff affected, and we all have mothers, wives, sisters, so it's easy to get behind it in that sense.

"And you add in the juxtaposition of those tough guys in pink jerseys, and it lends itself to something you can easily market."

That marketing is often successful — the Steelheads drew an average of 4,105 fans in their two Pink In The Rink games last year, a bit more than the 3,980 fans who came to the Steelheads' 34 other home games. The Stampede averaged 2,974 on their two nights, ahead of the 2,432 average for their other 22 home games.

"It's definitely mutually beneficial if more people come out to those events," Hawkins said.

In Canyon County, the Snake River Stampede and Caldwell Night Rodeo each dedicate a night where fans and cowboys are asked to wear pink. The Stampede has raised more than $400,000 since 2006 through its Stampede For The Cure program, and the CNR's Power of Pink walk/run raises thousands each year for local hospitals to help with free screenings.

"Pink's not a manly color, but no one's making fun if you're out there at the rodeo, showing support, taking a stand," said Ken Nicodemus, a member of the Stampede's board of directors on the Stampede For The Cure committee. "It's been an effective tool helping women get mammograms and get early treatment."

The Boise Hawks have worn pink jerseys and auctioned them off in the past, and this season had a "pink out the park" night with fans encouraged to wear pink. General Manager Todd Rahr said 2014 likely will again see a revival of the pink jerseys.

With more open discussion of breast cancer, most people are aware of it by now, and the stress is informing them how to take action. Still, as pink has become more and more prevalent in sports, there is the chance of pink fatigue.

"I think there's the possibility that you water down the message, so it's a tricky balancing act," Hawkins said. "That being said, pink has in a way become like a barbershop pole, you know what it represents. You certainly don't discourage it if the intent is in the right place."

Even as pink is associated with breast cancer awareness, it also simply is a fairly popular color to wear, especially among female fans. The major leagues sell a wealth of pink apparel, but only a small percentage of proceeds go to breast cancer charities. Companies like Nike make all sorts of accessories in pink, but many do not mention a tie-in with breast cancer, though most pink products are sold in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Most of the buyers of the pink gear at Brady's store are high school and Optimist players, whose teams may not have the entire roster wear pink, but instead is an individual choice.

"I think when some of the team leaders do it, a lot of the others will follow," Brady said.

Brady said some of his pink-buying customers have been Boise State athletes. The Broncos' football team, like many other college teams, does not have an official pink-themed game, with the cost of equipment for more than 100 players often a primary reason. However, most of the Broncos' women's teams are planning a pink night.

From the youth football fields to NFL stadiums, pink is pervasive, and even as it becomes more and more common, the message is still strong, especially in Idaho.

"Seeing those big, burly guys in pink never really gets old," Idaho Stampede president Steve Brandes said. "It's a great way to convey that message, and the figures are eye-opening, so if that can help turn around that figure in any way, you do it."

Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_southorn

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