Joanne O’Riordan: A winning platform for women in sport
Just Women’s Sports hopes to level the playing field for female sports content
Megan Rapinoe of the US celebrates scoring their second goal against Spain in the Women’s World Cup round of 16 match at Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims, France, on June 24th, 2019. Photograph: Bernadett Szabo/Reuters
What do Elena Delle Donne, Kevin Durant, Kelley O’Hara, Sam Mewis and others have in common? Well, as of last week, they have all invested money into Just Women’s Sports, an online platform solely dedicated to the promotion and analysis of women’s sports. In fact, they believe in women’s sports platforms so much, CEO Haley Rosen and her crew received $3.5 million to grow their brand along with the women’s game.
“Our ambition is to really be the one-stop shop for all things women’s sports. That means expanding our digital channels, growing out our audio network. We would love to get into premium content. For us, we want to make the games accessible, we want the games. We have a vision for this company that you go to justwomenssports.com, put in your name, put in your password, and unlock this whole world of women’s sports,” explains Rosen.
Rosen is a former professional soccer player with Washington Spirit and a graduate of Stanford University, where she was named an All-Pac-12 midfielder while playing for Stanford. Now, she devotes her time to Just Women’s Sports.
“I really believe a lot of mainstream sports media is built around men’s sports. If you look at a lot of the major networks in the US, they focus on the NFL, NBA, MLB – these are all men’s sports leagues. They have audiences that are there for men’s sports brands that want to sponsor men’s sports. For us, I think that there’s a real opportunity to go do that and build that for women’s sports and set up a structure that is set up for women’s sports to just dominate and bring in brands that want audiences there for women’s sports.
“Something that I’ve really learned on this journey is I thought initially, hey, here’s your sports fans, and you want to convert a certain percentage over to women’s sports. I do think that’s part of it. We always say if you’re a fan of the Lakers, we want you to be a fan of the Sparks. I think a bigger part of this is this ‘post-Title IX generation’, and it’s a lot of women like myself that grew up playing sports from an amateur to a professional level, and they want to watch the game that they know. Our ambition is to really pull that together, and that’s what I think is really the opportunity here.”
Someone who also believes in this project is a two-time NBA champion and MVP Durant. Thirty Five Ventures was set up by Durant and his business partner Rich Kleiman. Overseeing his personal brand’s creative content with Thirty Five Ventures is chief marketing officer Sarah Flynn. According to Flynn, the investment was an obvious choice for KD.
“I think anybody who knows and follows Kevin knows how supportive he is of the women’s game and women’s sports in general, but obviously, in particular, the WNBA. If you talk to any NBA player, they see WNBA players as their peers, they watch the games. They understand the physicality and the athleticism, and the style of play and how great female athletes, especially in the WNBA, are at just the fundamentals of basketball. If you are a pure basketball fan, you love the WNBA as much as you do the NBA. To them, it’s just no question,” explains Flynn.
What we have in the women’s game is a lot of incredible conversations around equity and incredible conversations around social justice
So, what was it about Just Women’s Sports that caught the eye of one of basketball’s all-time greats?
“I think when you look at the women’s sports landscape, there are just some fundamental steps that have been skipped in terms of building those conversations and building those fandoms. Again, that’s something that Just Women’s Sports [is] trying to address.
“If you look at where men’s sports are, you’re very used to getting those behind-the-scenes storylines about the athletes... you understand the world and the fashion and the personality and social justice [issues] as well as all of those things around the league... and you can contextualise those things because you understood those people as players first.
“What we have in the women’s game is a lot of incredible conversations around equity and incredible conversations around social justice... you have a lot of people trying to do a lot of storytelling around who the women are as people, but you don’t have enough storytelling about them as the players. You do not see the highlight reels. You’re not seeing the highlights, and all of those fundamentals need to happen before you can truly build engaged fandoms.”
In Haley’s eyes, Covid has given women’s sports a unique opportunity, with everyone stuck at home. For a long time, the NWSL was the only league up and running. The WNBA’s season opener saw a 63 per cent increase in viewership.
“We’ve been asking and wanting more coverage, and for whatever reason with Covid, it just became unacceptable to not cover women’s sports. I also think that with sports stopping and the NWSL was literally the only league in the US that was playing, they had a real opportunity, and they took full advantage of it. Then the WNBA did something similar too. I just feel like, with Covid, women’s sports got a real chance. With that chance, it was undeniable that there was an audience and interest there, and that it was a really, really great product,” reiterates Rosen.
According to Flynn, while businesses may be looking for newer opportunities to promote their business, women’s sport is the place to start.
“I think with announcements like ours and people like Kevin stepping up and supporting something like Just Women’s Sports, other people are starting to get a little bit of Fomo, and there’s that ‘we don’t want to miss out on what could be a huge investment. We got to get on the ball now, and we have to start covering the game.’ You feel a little bit of that pressure behind the scenes in a really good and fun way.”
For now, Rosen has her eye on the prize. She knows what she’s looking to do with the investment. “For us, it’s all about building the ecosystem of women’s sports, getting people to tune in every week, every day, and just continuing to build the world of women’s sports. That’s really our goal.”