In a matter of weeks, all of the progress that was made around women’s sports in 2019 has hit a severe roadblock by the coronavirus pandemic – a fact that is not lost on female sports media outlets.
When The GIST launched in July 2018, it aimed to provide women with a way to learn what was going on in sports in less than five minutes. The twice-a-week newsletter covers both male and female athletics, but particularly emphasizes the latter with its motto, “Levelling The Playing Field.” Entering 2020, women’s sports accounted for a mere 4% of sports media coverage and 1% of the sponsorship market, according to studies by the University of Minnesota and the Irish Examiner.
Founded by the trio of Jacie deHoop, Ellen Hyslop, and Roslyn McLarty, the Canada-based company was created over takeout and a bottle of wine. Beginning with local newsletters in Ottawa and Toronto, it has since expanded into Boston and Philadelphia, growing from an initial 500 readers to 90,000. It had planned to reach more than 10 U.S. and Canadian cities by the end of 2020, Hyslop told Front Office Sports. Their eventual goal? To become the go-to sports site for women.
With the coronavirus pandemic’s crippling effect on the sports industry, The GIST has scaled back on its content to the website and only one North American newsletter, Hyslop said. While newsletter circulation has been condensed, work across the board has not stalled for the media outlet.
The GIST’s strategy has shifted more towards evergreen content, focusing on everything from the history of women in baseball to memorable March Madness moments, Hyslop said. Its weekly podcast, The GIST Of It, touches on the coronavirus-sports news cycle but will eventually shift towards issues impacting female athletes like equal pay, motherhood, and other sensitive topics.
Across Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter, The GIST has been able to gain more than 20,000 followers on social media. One content that it is not on right now? TikTok. But during this hiatus, Hyslop and social media manager Carrie Oehm are looking to produce evergreen content that the app has grown to embrace.
The GIST is also using this time to profile the people in sports most impacted by the coronavirus: the athletes. It boasts a list of 13 “GISTfluencers,” from Olympic gold medalist Rosie Maclennan to doubles tennis player Sharon Fichman. Both women have already been featured in THE GIST’s most recent newsletter, with plans to incorporate their other athlete influencers soon.
“When you’re looking at our audience, our GISTers care about the person a lot and the player/individual athlete a lot,” Hyslop said. “It gives a great opportunity for us to help show different athletes personalities and style and what they’re doing to an audience who maybe didn’t know a certain player beforehand or didn’t know certain things about them.”
Similar to The GIST, Lindsay Gibbs is dedicating herself to increasing women’s sports coverage through Power Plays, her “no-holds-barred newsletter about sexism in sports.” Since it came out in October, it has generated between 7,000 and 10,000 readers per free newsletter, Gibbs said. There is also a paid newsletter subscription, though Gibbs declined to comment on how many there are.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Power Plays published three newsletters a week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. All written, edited, and produced by Gibbs, it has provided a look into the lack of attention paid to women’s sports. It also applauds outlets that have been ramping up its coverage of female athletics and acknowledges accomplishments in the industry.
Unable to cover events like the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, Women’s College World Series, and Olympic Trials, Gibbs’ traveling schedule has been eliminated. But, it has also given her the chance to reallocate money from their travel budget to hire freelancers at a minimum of $1,100 a month- the amount that Gibbs can afford, assuming zero growth in paid subscriptions.
More than a half-dozen writers have reached out about freelancing positions at Power Plays, with more to come, Gibbs said. With that level of interest, she plans on releasing daily newsletters as soon as this week.
“People are out of work, and a lot of sports reporters aren’t able to write about sports right now, so I’m just so excited to be able to tell the stories that my writers and contributors are already working on,” Gibbs said. “I think it’s just going to be a really big value add for the community because even in a time where no live sports are happening, there are so many stories that still need to be told.”
Haley Rosen’s goal in 2020 was for her company, Just Women’s Sports, to get up and off the ground with a fully-functioning website and newsletter. Launched in January, it now finds itself in a sports-less market.
Even with women’s sports on the back burner right now, it won’t be stopping Just Women’s Sports from producing its weekly newsletter, which has a click-through and open rate of roughly 11% and 40%, respectively, Rosen said.
It has also begun shifting its content towards female athletes directly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Recent stories include tales about women like Carli Snyder and Gabby Williams, who play professionally overseas, along with stories of college athletes whose seasons were cut short.
For now, Just Women’s Sports is offering a linked list of historical games, documentaries, interviews, and highlights in women’s sports history through its Watch tab.
“We’ve gotten the feedback that in addition to the lack of women’s sports coverage, it’s tough to find the coverage that doesn’t exist or it’s hard to find the game because you know, they’re on obscure channels or sketchy websites,” Rosen said. “We have everything that’s happening and how to watch, what time it is, all of that. But because no games are going on, we put together this watchlist. We’re still building it out, but we pulled the documentaries, movies, and some of our favorite games, in case anyone’s missing sports and wanting to revisit.”
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While some media outlets are slowly brainstorming ways to remain relevant during this time, others are still trying to figure out, “what’s next?” For SheIS co-founder and chief marketing officer Caiti Donovan, 2020 began on a strong note for the female organization.
It had its first leadership council call in January, briefing all of the commissioners and advisory committee leaders on SheIS’s revised strategy it had created at the end of 2019. Donovan says that it was well-received and put SheIS in an excellent place to execute on its three pillars: driving attendance and viewership, connecting through storytelling, and centralizing resources.
In a matter of weeks, she and the company have had to reflect and revise how it plans to deliver this strategy, given the circumstances.
“I will be completely honest: with everything changing so quickly right now, we have not fully settled on exactly what that is going to look like for the rest of the year,” Donovan admitted. “I don’t think that anybody has. But the thing that we absolutely know, that we still want to ensure that we’re doing, is creating that connection – that human-to-human understanding of women in sport towards the broader fan base.”
As more outlets like The GIST, Just Women’s Sports, and Power Plays come to light, Donovan says that making sure they all work together towards a common goal – that women in sports continue to thrive – is imperative in getting through the calamity that has become the coronavirus.
“Collaboration is single-handedly the most important thing that we can do right now, and that is a full stop,” she added. “We must collaborate, especially with the other women-led organizations in this space. They have a personal and – as much as they do – a professional motivation to make sure that women’s sports continue to thrive during this time. Even if we all might approach it in slightly different ways, the goal is ultimately the same, and that collaboration simply must happen.”