I Wish There Wasn’t a Need for The GIST

By Jacie deHoop

Sports create community.

Sports have an extraordinary ability to unite people and to create a sense of community. Most of us have likely experienced the excitement that ensues when the Raptors, Leafs or Jays are on a winning streak. The city’s energy is electric - everyone’s in jerseys, people stop working to watch the game, it seems as though people are smiling more, and it’s always the topic of conversation - “You catch last night’s game?”.

But sports aren’t for everyone.  

That being said, the sports industry as it stands today has failed us. We, and a lot of our readers, have found that sports can also be exclusionary in many ways. To really follow sports, you not only have to have a base-level knowledge of the rules, teams and players, but also take the time to stay up-to-date on all the wins/losses, trades etc. If you didn’t grow up playing or following western society’s mainstream sports, there is a huge learning curve. This results in many people feeling excluded from the conversation that ensues after - “you catch last night’s game?”.  

I have certainly felt this before. I played a lot of sports growing up, including sports that are always on TV, like tennis, basketball and hockey. However, as much as I already had a base knowledge of these sports, that didn’t translate into being a big fan of any of these sports’ professional teams. I’m not really sure why this is, I just know that being a big sports fan didn’t feel like it was for me...I just didn’t relate to it.

It is no secret that majority of sports fans are men. And despite the progress made towards diversity and inclusion in the industry, that progress has been slow. Like, realllllyyyy slow.

Why should we care about changing that?

Because sports are actually fun! As someone who wasn’t really into sports, but has become a pretty big sports fan since we started The GIST (turns out, to run a sports news startup you should stay pretty up-to-date on all things sport), I can honestly say that I have a new and welcomed passion for sport. It is genuinely so fun to be part of it all. On top of the entertainment is the community - sports have always had the magical ability to connect people. Because of this, sports can be a form of social currency, and that currency shouldn’t be limited to some groups of people. Everyone should feel welcome and part of the community that sports provide. This is where The GIST comes in - to make sports fun, but more importantly, to make sports for everyone.

Is this actually a problem?

Short answer, yes. There is a lack of diversity in sport across gender, race and sexual orientation, from athletes to media to ownership. Here are some of the numbers specifically around women in sports:

  • 4% of sports media coverage is on female sports - We don’t see women’s sports on TV, and under representation reflects interest. Just sayin’.

  • 14% of sports journalists are female - There are very few women talking about sports, and when they are, they are often objectified, have their knowledge challenged, aren’t able to voice their own opinions, and/or get some other kind of flack. If you haven’t already, watch #morethanmean - women in sports facing harassment, literally to their faces. It’s hard to watch. It’s no wonder why many women don’t relate to current sports news, when sports content is not being created by women.

  • 0.4% of sponsorship is spent on female athletes - Corporations are not putting money behind female athletes and teams, and leagues aren’t paying female athletes equitably. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League only started paying its athletes in 2017!! The wage gap is real people.

  • 6.7% of sports teams are owned by women in the big 4 leagues - Those making decisions are white men. The usual. (If you’re interested, meet the 9 women who are part of the exclusive club here).

In addition to women, the hyper-masculinity of sports culture can be alienating to many other groups. Kate Fagan of ESPN has said, “Sports has always been, and will likely always be, a place where women struggle to have their voices heard, and where minorities are often the players, but rarely the ones in positions of power.” The numbers support it. While players that are people of colour is significant in most leagues (NBA - 71%, NFL - 73%, MLB - 43%), only 7% of team owners in the NBA, NFL and MLB are people of colour. This is a topic for another blog post, but I will say that as a half-Asian Canadian, I didn’t see Asian athletes on the team sports that were always on TV, let alone Asian female athletes to look up to. And when you don’t see it, you don’t imagine it for yourself. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the long history of homophobia in sports, proven by the fact that there has never been a single active, openly gay player in the NFL or NHL.

So yeah, it really is a problem.

Okay. What’s causing it?

To be honest, I don’t know. But we at The GIST have been trying to better understand this social problem and have a few ideas.

It starts with the kids - Barriers to playing and succeeding in sports still exist for many - including girls, queer kids, disadvantaged youth and ethnic minorities. Since Title IV passed in the US in 1972, allowing female professional sports to exist, the number of female collegiate athletes has increased by 600%. However, the Women’s Sports Foundation has found that by age 14, girls drop out of sports twice as much as boys do. While it sounds ridiculous in 2018, there are still conflicting messages in society about whether, as a woman, you should be into sports or not. Success in sport often comes from exhibiting traditionally masculine traits, such as competitiveness, drive and strength. When women achieve success in sport, they often face scrutiny for going against conventional feminine ideals (Serena Williams has spoken on this topic at length). Even when you achieve the highest levels of success, you can’t truly win as a female athlete with today’s systemic pressures. I can only imagine how these mixed messages compound for kids who are discovering their sexual orientation, and trying to find inclusive environments. Not exactly what youth sports teams are known for. Layer on the lack of accessibility and cost to play certain sports, and we’ve also excluded many underprivileged youth from ever being able to try these sports.

It spirals from there - As girls grow up and progress through sport, they notice that they never see women’s sports on TV, and that there are fewer opportunities for them compared to their male counterparts. When women’s sports are televised, they’re rarely on at prime time, meaning there are fewer advertisers, and less money going to the athletes. It’s difficult to tell these young women to dedicate their lives to their sport when they’ll be paid half as much as their male counterparts, if paid at all. As a result, women’s sports are not as ingrained in our culture or talked about, and you get more cultural capital by following men’s sports. While female interest in sport is not all about female athletes being on the screen, the lack of media exposure certainly contributes to women feeling sports aren’t for them.

And there’s no one there to stop it - There simply aren’t enough people at the top, with the money and power, pushing for change in the industry. In addition to the lack of female ownership of professional sports teams, is the lack of women in governance and leadership roles. Of the top global sport governing bodies, less than 30% of the seats are held by women.

Still, Progress is being made.

So I realize I have painted a dire situation, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. All of the above numbers aside, the sports industry is moving in the right direction (albeit slowly), and there is significantly more diversity in sports today than ever before.

To start, the number of female sports fans is growing. As of last year, 45% of millennial females identified as being sports fans, versus 41% of Gen X females (Gen X is the older generation - am I the only one that gets that mixed up?). The leagues and teams are taking notice. The NBA has made significant strives to improve racial and gender hiring practices in the organization, with Jenny Boucek, assistant coach for the Dallas Mavericks, being the first ever assistant coach to be pregnant. Turning to viewership of women’s sports, the 2015 Women’s World Cup Final (USA vs. Japan), was the most-watched soccer match in US history, a 77% increase to the same final matchup in 2011! From the success of You Can Play, a project dedicated to eradicating homophobia in sports that has garnered endorsements from over 100 NHL players and personnel, to the country’s love for Hockey Night in Canada’s Punjabi broadcaster Harnarayan Singh, there has been progress in diversity and inclusion in sport across gender, sexual orientation and race.

We still need to do more.

We’ve got to do more, and do more faster. We know there are millions of female sports fans out there that love following, and contributing to, both female and male sports. They deserve to be recognized not just as consumers, but as fans, athletes and people. Why aren’t we making them feel included, safe and prioritized? Why aren’t we creating content specifically for them? And we don’t mean by selling pink jerseys or donating a sliver of earnings to breast cancer research.

There are some female fans out there that are crazy sport fans (crazy in a good way) that don’t feel underserved or left out, and that’s fantastic. But, there is also a large population of female fans out there that could become that crazy fan if they felt like sports were for them.

For this to happen, an inclusive environment for sport needs to be created. This is an environment where we take a firm stance on issues of sexual and domestic abuse and don’t allow female athletes or talent to be objectified. It is an environment where we highlight and celebrate female athletes, coaches and business women doin’ their thang.

I wish there wasn’t a need for a sports news outlet like us, and hopefully, with time, there won’t be a need to provide different content to an underserved population. But today, we do have The GIST, and we are here to level the playing field, and serve a gap in the sports industry.

 

Jacie deHoop, Co-Founder

The Tough Questions - Part II

By Roslyn McLarty

This is the second part to a two-part blog post that answers some of the tough questions we’ve received since starting The GIST. Part I, discusses the question “Why should women have to conform to a man's world? Why should we need to learn about sports to talk to men?”. If you haven’t read it yet, definitely head on over and give it a read first. We go into why sports are for everyone, (not just for dudes), and how we would never want our readers to have to fake an interest in sports to talk to anyone! We want our readers to genuinely enjoy keeping up with sports news and allow them to connect with people through sports in an authentic way.

Anyway, from my experience, a really big part of getting into sports is knowing what the heck is actually going on. I played soccer growing up so I really like watching soccer more than the average person. But if you asked me to watch a Blue Jays game and took away the atmosphere, the summer weather, the drinks and hot dogs and friends, I would NOT be down. Ellen says she would though. (She used to watch baseball on TV alone, and even on the RADIO - I would never!). And the difference is that, to be honest, I don’t really get baseball. I never played it growing up. Don’t know the rules or strategy other than someone hits the ball and tries to run around the bases. But I hear from friends that it’s actually pretty interesting and fun to watch when you get the strategy behind the game. So, one of the things we try and do at The GIST is provide people with opportunities to learn more about sports so they can get into it if they want. (Maybe I should spend a little more time with our GIST baseball glossary…).

This brings me to the next tough question we’ve sometimes been asked:

 

Why are you dumbing down sports for women?

We’re not. But we are offering our readers additional educational resources to learn about sports so that they can enjoy them more. We’re not assuming  all of our readers don’t already know what offside is, or the role of the running back, or who the best team in the league is. But we’re also not assuming that they do know these things. And that’s why we’re different from a traditional sports media company. It’s hard to jump into an article from a TSN and understand what’s going on if you haven’t been following the team or sport. And, it’s hard to be interested in what’s going on if you don’t know the background, the backstories, the players, or the rules. So, in our content, we offer people the choice to learn more. We don’t take up much space in our actual newsletter, but, we  link to resources housed on our site for those that don’t know what, say, a triple double is. In our guides, glossaries and FAQ’s we break it down in a really easy to understand manner for the non-avid sports fan, which, turns out, a lot of our readers are.

On a scale of 1-5 (with a 5 being someone who feels they could guest-write for TSN and 1 being someone who doesn’t know what TSN is), 75% of our readers have ranked their confidence in sports knowledge as a 1-3. That means 25% of our readers are a 4-5 (people we would consider avid sports fans, who might not need the educational resources). So with these stats, we think our users might appreciate having the option to read an explanation on how a league is organized, definitions for sports terms, positions or acronyms, or a low down on who’s who in the league, in order for them to better enjoy and appreciate the rest of the content and the sport itself.

Like any subject matter, when you’re teaching someone who is not already a 5 out of 5 on the topic, you can’t just jump straight into it without starting with the basics. If you’re a 1 out of 5 in your accounting knowledge, I would need to explain to you the purpose of accounting, what a balance sheet and income statement are, and start with the basic debits and credits before we can have a full-fledged discussion about whether or not a company is using the right revenue recognition policy. (Sorry for the accounting example). Similarly, at times we do start with the basics and the backstories , so that our readers can get fired up with us about why something that happened in the sports world is so exciting or upsetting.

Another similar question we’ve been asked is:

 

Why do you have to deliver sports differently for men and women?

I’m not sure. Why are less women sports fans than men? It seems the way sports news is currently being delivered is not adequately meeting the needs of all women… otherwise the gap between male and female fans would be smaller right?? (Recognizing there are other contributing factors as discussed in Blog post 1).

I flipped on a sports podcast the other day because I was like “Hmm, I am the co-founder of a sports company – surely I should dive a little deeper into the sports world. How about I start listening to some sports podcasts to get up to speed?”. It was a few guys talking basketball, shooting the sh!t, being kind of bro-y, laughing about stuff that wasn’t making me laugh. And I had this moment where I was was like ‘WOW. This is NOT for me. Thank god I have Ellen and The GIST to teach me sports”. Not to say there aren’t any male delivered sports news out there that I might like more… but I just feel like if the podcast had been women chatting about sports in a funny way that was more relatable to me, I’d be way more into it. Not to mention more open to listening to the whole thing and learning in the process. So that’s what we try to do. We want to be your funny, sports-obsessed girlfriend getting you up-to-date on what’s happening in the sports world in an efficient yet entertaining way. We say stuff that you can actually relate to and find funny. We want to both entertain you and inform you, so that staying up-to-date on sports news isn’t a chore, it’s a fun part of your routine.

Studies show that women actually consume sports media in a different way than men do. We, as women, are generally also more interested in the human side of the athletes and the backstories. That’s just our nature. How did the athlete feel? Which athletes have the best chemistry on and off the court? What’s the backstory of this team or this rivalry? Who’s the underdog making the inspiring comeback? Who is the athlete dating? Who’s their family? What are they like at home with their family? It makes watching the sport more interesting when you know the people behind it all. We want to provide that contextualization (rather than stats on performance history, for example) for our readers so that they are just genuinely more interested.

I had the pleasure of attending game seven of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals in Boston this spring which was SO fun (hello LeBron Jaaaames!). Leading up to the game though, you could certainly not catch me reading up on the teams’ performance over the season or player stats in preparation for the game. Instead I was waay more interested in knowing about the backstory on Kyrie and LeBron playing together for ages and Kyrie leaving LeBron after their loss in the Championship, and the massive beef that ensued. Ellen filled me in that there were rumours Kyrie requested the trade, that Kyrie unfollowed Kyrie on socials, but LBJ showed he wanted Kyrie as part of his all star team. All this set a way more interesting scene for game 7 than any stats could’ve. To me it was just more interesting!

In addition to curating, contextualizing, and spicing up news that we think you should be paying attention to because it’s what people are inevitably going to be talking about, we also do our best to feature female athletes. Professional female athletes are so badass and inspiring, and we want to make an impact on closing the gap in gender inequality in the sports industry. We also curate news and provide a female lens on issues being faced by females in the sports industry that you should be aware of, that you should care about and that you want to care about. Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of more than 300 young female athletes, the unfairness of Serena losing her WTA seeding because she wanted to have a baby, to name a couple. And we provide a female lens not only on these heavy topics, but also on the lighter stuff too.

 

Wrapping It Up

At the end of the day, we want to empower women through sport. We want to deliver sports content in a way it has not previously been offered. We want to fill a gap in the industry. We want to give female athletes some media time. We want to provide a female lens on issues in the sports industry and to highlight those issues faced by women. We want to educate women who want to learn more about sports (like me sometimes!). We want to offer women the opportunity to fall in love with sports and to make that part of their lives however they want to, whether that’s to connect with people in personal and professional settings, or to purely just enjoy it for what it is and leave it at that. The choice is yours. The difference now is we want to give you the choice in the first place.

 

Roslyn
Co-Founder

The Tough Questions - Part I

By Roslyn McLarty

 

Since launching The GIST in December, the support and overall response we’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive. The problem we’re trying to solve has resonated with people, and people appreciate the way we are trying to solve that problem. However, a few tough questions have come up related to what we are trying to achieve with The GIST. These are questions we also asked ourselves when we were first brainstorming The GIST, and are questions that we continue to consider in everything we do.

Why should women have to conform to a man's world? Why should we need to learn about sports to talk to men?

Why are you dumbing down sports for women?

Why do you have to deliver sports differently for men and women?

These questions are completely fair and valid. We completely understand where they are coming from.

But knowing that the three of us co-founders are feminists at heart, and that our intentions are purely to empower women and to serve their wants and needs, I hate to see people getting rubbed the wrong way or getting the wrong impression of The GIST. So I wanted to take the opportunity to address these questions. This blog post addresses question #1 and our blog post in the coming week will discuss questions #2 and #3 so please stay tuned if this topic is as interesting to you as it is to us!

Question 1 - Why should women have to conform to a man’s world? Why should we need to learn about sports to talk to men?

First of all, sports aren’t, and shouldn’t be, just for the guys. And we’re absolutely not suggesting that women should fake an interest just to fit in. We are hoping our subscribers develop a genuine interest in a community from which they might previously have felt excluded.

Sports are for everyone

Sports are a topic that unites people, that builds community, and that forms a bond between people regardless of gender, age, race, religion or socioeconomic class. Go to a sports game in Toronto and  you’ll see strangers of different ages, races or socioeconomic classes high fiving and hugging each other after big plays. Sports can be entertaining, exhilarating and downright inspiring. The unbelievable talent and physical ability of athletes, the determination and tireless effort athletes put in to have a chance at being the greatest, the teamwork and camaraderie, the loyalty, the passion, the love between players, coaches, fans. It’s easy to see why cities and countries band together in support of a team or athlete. It really doesn’t matter how old you are or where you grew up or whether you’re a woman or a man. You’re united by this appreciation for and love of sport. So we’re not saying sports is something women should have to leverage to bond with men.

Sports can, and should be, for women as much as they are for men.

And being into sports is something that brings people together, regardless of whether they are a man or a woman. That’s why sports can be common ground and a way to connect with someone, whether that’s at the office, in a social setting or in your personal life. For me personally, I grew up playing sports and watching some sports on TV and at live games with my family (the Sens! - I’m from Ottawa, the soccer world cup). But moving away from home and starting a busy job in the city resulted in that passion for sports trailing off. I wasn’t not a sports fan but I wasn’t an avid fan either. Since we launched The GIST in December, I can definitely say that my confidence in my knowledge of and interest in sports has increased a great amount (partially thanks to my newsletter and article-editing duties, partially thanks to having access to Ellen almost 24/7) and I have personally found myself in many situations, professional and personal, with men and women alike, where I’ve been able to more comfortably feel included in sports conversations and to have more fun attending sports games with my partner or friends, live or on TV at a bar! And I’ve loved being able to connect with people over sports and I want other readers like me to have a similar experience.

However..

The stats show more men are sports fans than women

A Repucom study shows 69% of men are interested in watching sports on TV compared to 43% of women. This means more women than men are losing out on the opportunity to be a part of this amazing sports community and to connect with people over sports.

Why is this happening?

We’re not 100% sure. We don’t have all the answers. But we do have a few ideas from what the stats are telling us and from our own personal experiences.

a. 90% of sports editors are male. Most sports news is currently created by men for a predominantly male audience. Women may be less interested in sports news because it’s not created with them in mind as the end user. It’s not in a female tone or personality. It doesn’t cater to our interests or sense of humour.

b. Only 0.4% of total sports sponsorship is earned by females. Sports haven’t always been marketed to us. There has been some progress and there are some awesome companies out there that have focused more on sponsoring women athletes and seeing that it’s smart to market to women (hello, we females control over $20T in worldwide spending!). But unfortunately big corporations have traditionally chosen to market sports to guys and other more traditionally ‘feminine’ things to women, which has made a lot of women grow up feeling like sports are a guys thing and something that’s not for them.

c. Only 4% of sports media coverage is on female athletes. While it’s definitely fun to watch male sports, is it possible more women would be interested in watching sports if there was an option to watch female athletes? As a young soccer player I think I would have loved the opportunity to watch more women’s soccer growing up. And the stats show that some of the most popular sports among women to watch are sports where women are covered in a more equal fashion to men (tennis, the Olympics, figure skating). Would this be the case for other sports if females were featured more?

The problem with female inequality in sports is a vicious cycle. Less media coverage, sponsorship of and promotion of women’s sports means there’s less opportunity for young females, and any sports fans for that matter, to develop an interest in and loyalty to women’s sports, and also less of an opportunity for female athletes to pursue a career in sports. And then media companies use that lack of interest to justify the lack of coverage and big dollars being spent on female leagues, teams and athletes. When NBA commissioner Adam Silver said part of the WNBA’s problem is that not enough young women support the league, Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne replied ““We absolutely do not get promoted as our counterparts do. When you put millions of dollars into marketing athletes and allow fans to get to know players on the court they develop a connection ... How is anyone going to get to know me or any of my colleagues if we aren’t marketed nearly as much?”. It’s so true! Who knows how many more female fans we’d have if women sports received as much coverage and funding as men’s.

Okay, so, to recap, sports are a great way to connect. But clearly there’s a gender gap leading to less women being able to use sports to connect.

So what do we want to do about it?

Well, we’re not saying you should pretend to like sports to be in the conversation with men. We don’t want you to fake something you’re not actually into. It’s not authentic and that’s something that will come through and will probably do you more harm than good. We are not trying to feed you lines to use at the water cooler.

We want you to genuinely be interested in sports.

And, becoming interested in and liking sports is way easier when you understand what’s going on. Sports are way more fun to watch and read about when you get understand the rules,  have the context of how the league is organized and how the teams are doing, when you know who the players, when you have the backstory. It’s just more enjoyable.

We want to make sports more fun and easy for you to keep up with by providing you with all of these things. We want to spark an interest in sports you didn’t know you had. We want you to give sports a chance because we’re offering a new way for you to consume sports, and we hope that maybe you’ll like sports, genuinely. And if you find you do enjoy following sports, then you have the option to use sports to connect with people in an authentic way in your professional or personal life.

Ellen is our head of content and is a lifelong sports fan - sports have truly been her number one passion from a young age. Before The GIST, Ellen worked in a relationship-based role in the insurance industry for four years and consistently used sports as common ground with clients, colleagues and superiors at work. It was something she was able to use to improve her reputation in the office, strengthen relationships with brokers and effectively make business dealings more effective. Experiencing first hand the positive impact that her love for sports was having in her life was one of her motivations for wanting to provide this same opportunity to other women.

A 2006 study done in the UK found that talking about sports at work can improve mood and morale at the workplace. Clearly sports can be a neutral topic for workplace bonding. But there is a gender gap. I remember when I was working at a big four accounting firm and I piled into the elevator one morning with the other 10-15 people that could squish in, and our CEO was among us. He said something to the effect of Kyle Lowry should’ve made that final shot last night. I had watched the game and knew the shot he was talking about and so was able to join the chorus of agreement, but I did notice that it was mostly the guys in the elevator responding; whereas many of the women kind of disconnected or looked down at their phones. And of course I don’t think our CEO was trying to exclude the women on purpose - when you’re in an elevator full of 15 of your employees and trying to find a way to engage everyone, the neutral topics are pretty much weather and… sports. But as a result of picking sports, many women may have felt like they lost an opportunity to connect with our CEO because sports is what came up. And these kinds of situations play out all the time.

It’s not all about your career, it’s about connecting with people in your life

And while the idea for The GIST originally came from us seeing women getting left out of the sports conversation at the office, it turns out, career is not the #1 reason why our users want to keep up with sports. From a survey of over 450 of our users, we found that the top 3 reasons people want to stay in the loop on sports are as follows:

  1. 64% of people said one of their motivations for following sports is because sports are part of the conversation with people in their lives.

  2. 43% said it was because sports are part of the conversation at social events.

  3. 37% said it was because sports are part of the conversation at work.

So the primary motivation isn’t necessarily work. It’s really more wanting to connect with the people in our lives.

This totally resonates with me. While I enjoy watching basketball on its own, as in without any other motivation influencing this (and part of this might be because I played basketball in middle and high school and just genuinely am in awe of the agility of the players and excited by the fast paced-ness of the game), I feel an additional motivation because 1) my partner and friends are into the NBA and the Raptors and I like engaging with them on the topic, watching games with them, chatting with them about it 2) I like going to games with a partner or girlfriend and knowing who the players are. I loved the Demar-Lowry friendship, seeing it on my Insta stories and then seeing the chemistry on the court – it just meant more (#sadness that this is now over), and 3) I loved going into the office and being able to say “I was at the game last night when Lowry made the shot from half court to clinch overtime and it was absolutely nuts!!!”. Notice the order there? For me really the main motivation wasn’t to impress co-workers with my basketball knowledge, it was really just to connect with people in an authentic way, in shared appreciation for basketball.

We want that for our readers. We don’t want to feed them lines to say to their male client or boss. We want them to get engaged because they can, and because they want to. We want to provide our readers with sports news that is written for them, to give them the content, the education, and the fun and entertaining tone that will actually make them enjoy staying up-to-date on sports news. If you actually come to enjoy following sports, then joining in the sports conversation and community - whether you’re a man or woman, whether it’s at work, with a significant other, or with family or friends - is just natural, it’s authentic and it’s fun.

Feel free to let us know what you think in the comments. And check back next week for blog post #2 where I tackle the next tough question: “Why are you dumbing down sports for women?”.

Thanks for reading!

Roslyn
Co-founder

 

Update: You can now read "The Tough Questions Part II".