It all started over dinner. Ellen Hyslop was waxing poetic about the Toronto Maple Leafs’ improbable run into the NHL playoffs despite having a young, rebuilding team. Her friends Roslyn McLarty and Jacie deHoop weren’t big sports fans, but they found themselves mesmerized by Hyslop’s story. Her storytelling had a millennial voice and felt like a breath of fresh air compared to today’s typical (meaning, primarily male) sports culture.
“It was this lightbulb moment. Why couldn’t Ellen be the voice of sports for other women? Why couldn’t we create a medium to consume sports that’s relatable, fun, and digestible?” said McLarty.
That conversation paved the way for The GIST, which creates sports content, experiences and community that’s for women by women. Founded by Hyslop, McLarty, and deHoop, the company offers a free, twice-weekly newsletter that gives readers “the gist” of what’s going on in the sports world in less than a five-minute read. The content is delivered — to a mostly-female audience — in the distinct voice Hyslop used to explain hockey to her friends over dinner: authentic, engaging, and most definitely female.
“Sports are a powerful connector and a social currency in our society. But for many women, this is a currency they do not have access to and a community they are excluded from,” said deHoop.
Indeed, the sports industry is geared heavily toward men:
- Less than 14% of sports journalists are women
- Only 4% of sports media content is dedicated to female athletes
- Of C-suite executives in the four major sports leagues (NHL, NFL, MLB and the NBA), less than 2% are women
“When you look at that trickle-down effect, you can see that sports news products are still being made for an avid, male sports fan,” said Hyslop. “We’re trying to provide that female voice, perspective, and tone that’s lacking.”
Launched in July 2018, The GIST has grown its community to more than 30,000 people across its email newsletter and social media channels, and reaches over 1 million monthly digital impressions — and they’re only covering Toronto and Ottawa teams at the moment. On September 5, they’re launching in the United States with one newsletter aimed at overall American sports, and another specifically for the Philadelphia market. The GIST has already partnered with major sports teams like the Ottawa Senators, as well as businesses like Bumble and Lululemon. Not bad for three women who never worked in sports or media before. (They quit corporate jobs to start their venture.) But hey, paradigms shift when people bring fresh perspectives to established industries.
For 13 weeks this summer, the three co-founders have moved from Toronto to Philadelphia to take part in the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars. The program has given them valuable connections with Comcast NBCUniversal executives, as well as experts in the Techstars network who have built successful companies. So far, the accelerator has exceeded expectations.
“We met a lot of people who genuinely want to help, are curious about our space, and ask hard questions. It’s been great,” said deHoop. “We’re also new to Philly and have been pleasantly surprised by how welcoming everybody has been.”
McLarty said being able to work side-by-side with other entrepreneurs in the cohort has been inspirational, pushing her team to work harder and dream bigger.
“We’ve instantly formed bonds with the other teams,” she said. “They’re at the same stage as us and going through many of the same things. They’ve been so helpful.”
Building a Community … and a Movement
The GIST is more than just a sports news company. They’re building a community of like-minded, sports enthused women while educating novice sports fans. They host free NFL pools, brackets for events like the FIFA Women’s World Cup and March Madness, and live chats around major events like the Toronto Raptors’ NBA Championship run this past spring. They also have a robust social media presence (mostly on Instagram and Twitter), as well as a website full of resources like guides, glossaries, FAQs, and deep-dive interviews on female athletes.
The goal is clear: Improve inclusivity and accessibility around sports. It can feel like an intimidating space for women, that’s why they’re bringing down the barriers of entry and eliminating the man-splaining. The result is changing the archetype of who is considered a “typical” sports fan.
“We’re trying to facilitate a way for sports-loving women, women new to sports, and women growing their sports fandom to connect and feel like they’re part of this movement to create a level playing field in the sports industry,” said Hyslop.
In five years, their vision is that The GIST will be “the go-to source for sports for women.”
“Our hope is that every woman who remotely considers themselves a sports fan is interested in learning more, or wants to connect with women through sports, will have The GIST in their pocket,” she said. “We want to make a positive change in those women’s lives and help create more female fans, athletes and journalists — so we can see those stats about the male-driven sports world start to change.”