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.
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:
64% of people said one of their motivations for following sports is because sports are part of the conversation with people in their lives.
43% said it was because sports are part of the conversation at social events.
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!
Update: You can now read "The Tough Questions Part II".