Podcast Episode 27: Big names are investing in women’s sports

July 22, 2020
This week co-hosts Ellen and Steph give #thegist on the NWSL’s expansion to Los Angeles with their new team Angel City. Backed by some massive names including actress Natalie Portman, GOAT tennis player Serena Williams, her Reddit co-founder husband Alexis Ohanian and actress America Ferrera, Ellen and Steph cover how this deal could change the women’s sports ecosystem as we know it. Exciting.
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Listen to this episode of The GIST of IT here

Ellen: What's up, GISTers? Welcome to The GIST of It, the podcast where two gals and two pals give you the gist of what's going on in the sports world. I'm Ellen Hyslop.

Steph: And I'm Steph Rotz.

Ellen: Thanks for tuning in.

Ellen: Steph, I am so jazzed and so amped for this week, there is just so much good news going around. Good vibes everywhere.

Steph: I'm feeling good. Ellen, are you feeling good? Like to your bones good?

Ellen: To my bones good. I like that question. That's when you know, if you ask someone and they're like how are you? And you're like, I'm good. But if you're like ‘to your bones good!’ That's when, you know, people are actually doing well.

Steph: Like, truly, I feel electric right now. I don't know if it's just me, but I feel like we're having a moment in women's sports and I'm starting to really believe that in my lifetime we might see like a reckoning in women's sports where we have more coverage, more content, more athletes to watch, more leagues. I'm just feeling really optimistic right now.

Ellen: Yes, it's a great time. It's a great week. And, you know, I also need to take the time to do a little bit of a shameless plug, because with sports coming back, as you know, Steph, we have a free twice weekly newsletter that gives the gist of everything that's going on in sports in less than five minutes. But without sports, during the pandemic, we've been sending out one North American wide newsletter. But now, because sports are coming back over the next couple of weeks, we're finally relaunching in some cities, as well as expanding to some cities starting tomorrow, Thursday, July 23rd.

Steph: My inbox is primed. It's ready. I can always trust in The GIST to give me what's going on in women's sports as well as men's sports. So I'm really excited about that. And what does this regional content stuff mean?

Ellen: Yeah, so basically starting on Thursday, you'll receive a GIST newsletter, catered to your location from both the national, so U.S. or Canada, and local (a city specific) level. So all newsletters will have national content. But city specific newsletters will also have an extra section specifically dedicated to their city too. So you won't miss out on any big news. But you'll also get that more special local news as well. And so we're coming back to Philly, Boston and Toronto, that one is for you Steph, and then we're also expanding to some major markets, which we're totally stoked about. So we're expanding to L.A., New York City and Washington DC.

Steph: L.A.! I'm excited to talk a little bit more about L.A. This episode, Ellen.

Ellen: Yeah, baby! It'll be a lot of fun. And, you know, we've hired a lot of kick ass regional writers, a regional editing team, a new U.S. content contributor. So I'm really excited for them to all get started actually writing the newsletters. It's going to be great to have some new woman-power on our team.

Steph: Thinking of staying informed with what's going on in women's sports and sports in general, in the newsletters can we expect how to watch the games? I'm always scrambling, trying to figure out where the frick to tune in.

Ellen: Yes women's sports seems to be all over the place. Everyone has different rights. I would say just off the top in general. CBS Sports for NWSL. Twitch for NWSL. WNBA, you're generally looking at ESPN2, and sometimes depending if Canada's feeling it or not, you can catch the WNBA on TSN as well as SportsNet.

Steph: Ok. Thank you. I'm going to write that down after this, thanks Ellen. And speaking of L.A., we teased that out a little bit earlier. Huge news dropped on Tuesday. Which if you're listening to this as this podcast comes out, was yesterday, about the NWSL, so the National Women's Soccer League, adding a franchise to the city. This is such a big deal for the NWSL. But also just for women's sports in general. Today, we're gonna get into it. What this means and also talk about why investing in women's sports matters so much. One of my favorite topics.

Ellen: All right, Steph. So let's get to this big news. Huge news. And set the stage for what we're going to be chatting about today. So, as you mentioned yesterday, Tuesday, it was announced that the NWSL, the National Women's Soccer League, the pro league in the U.S., will be expanding to an 11th team in 2022. So right now, there are nine teams that are currently playing. There's going to be another expansion team starting in 2021, and they're going to be out of Louisville, Kentucky. And then this new L.A. team is going to expand in 2022. And their name is going to be Angel City, which I kind of love.

Steph: Such a fitting name. They've already put out such a cinematic video advertising the launch of this team. And so I'm already so excited to see what kind of content we can expect from this team and what the logo might look like. There's a lot of star energy, obviously, we know with it being in Los Angeles. But also it's just so great to see how much this league is expanding because, you know, soccer is a global sport. It's going to thrive. I'm so excited.

Ellen: Totally. And it's going to thrive in such a global city like L.A. and a city that already has a team like L.A. FC from the MLS that has done so well. And actually speaking about that promo video that you were talking about. Let's link it into the show notes, because it's just one of those videos that just, I don't know, makes you love sports, makes you love soccer, gives you the shivers.

Steph: It has the same effect as your afternoon coffee. Watch it. You're going to feel like you can conquer so much more than before watching. Trust me.

Ellen: Who needs caffeine? Just watch sports montages. That's all you need.

Steph: It works for me. Honestly, I'm not even kidding.

Ellen: I love that. And so, you know, we're talking about this expansion today because when we see women's sports expanding, it's amazing. When we see girls youth sports expanding, it's amazing. And we love to see it. But this expansion is something phenomenal because the ownership group and who got this started is just absolutely jaw droppingly stacked.

And so the person who's leading this ownership group is actor Natalie Portman. Natalie Portman is running this, which is unreal. She's brought on other actors like Uzo Aduba, America Ferrera, Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria and more. Serena Williams is also in this mix, along with her husband, who's a tech entrepreneur and the co-founder of Reddit, which is kind of cool. They both invested. And Alexis is one of the leading owners of the team. And what I love is that they actually brought on their daughter, Olympia, to be a part of the ownership group. And Olympia is only two years old. So now she is the youngest owner in pro sports.

Steph: This is such a wholesome story. One of my favs, Jayna Hefford, who we actually interviewed on the pod, she tweeted, "pretty cool to see Serena Williams and Alexis investing with their young daughter in mind. Kudos to all those who are investing in the future of young girls" which I think is such a fun way to phrase it when we think about Olympia being one of the youngest or the youngest team owners and just thinking about that energy that they're bringing into the world, which we so desperately need right now. I'm here for it.

Ellen: So neat. And I think to her point as well. Alexis actually replied to Usain Bolt when he had his baby and he was like see you in the 2048 Olympics. Like saying that both of their daughters are going to be in the Olympics in 2048. And it's just like, manifesting those sorts of things and saying those sorts of things out loud is like hell, yeah our daughters are gonna be athletes and we're gonna support them.

Steph: I am here for this couple. I'm so new to learning about them as a union because to me, Serena Williams is the main character all the time. So I totally was not even paying attention to who her partner was. And he seems like a pretty cool dude.

Ellen: He is a cool dude. And let's not get it twisted like she is the main character.

Steph: Oh, she will always be our main character.

Ellen: She is the greatest athlete ever. I think, living right now she's the greatest athlete. But Alexis is a really great partner. He's so supportive of women's sports. He is a mega fan of the U.S. Women's National Team when they won the World Cup last year, I don't know if there was anyone more fired up, outside of maybe the players parents, probably than it was Alexis who was just so excited about it. And he just seems to be doing the right thing. He recently left the board of Reddit so that his seat could be filled by a Black person to ensure diversity on their board during the Black Lives Matter movement. So he's thinking, he's not just, you know, Moneybags McGee out there.

Steph: Mm hmm. Yeah. It was really good to see some concrete action from him when we're talking about the Black Lives Matter movement and using your power. That was such a great example. And Reddit has since filled that position with the first Black board member, being Michael Seibele.

Ellen: Great. You love to see it. It's awesome to see those sorts of things and hopefully he encourages a lot of other action. So outside of all of the actors and actresses and the tech entrepreneurs and Serena Williams and just the Williams family all together, 14 former U.S. Women's National Team players are also investing in the team, including Mia Hamm, absolutely obsessed, I wear her number, as well as Abby Wambach, who both of them are actually previously to Canadian Christine Sinclair, the holders of the international goals record. So it's Christine and Abby, then Mia Hamm. So that's pretty cool. And then some of the other women who are leading the ownership group include Kara Nortman, who's a partner at Upfront Ventures and media and gaming entrepreneur Julie Uhrman.

Steph: What I find so cool about all of this, apart from everything else I've obviously found so cool, is that there are so many influencers and influential people from so many different industries, so many different walks of life that are getting in on this and being investors and seeing the future of women's sports right here and now. This is a huge business decision. And every one of these people are betting on women's sports to do well and obviously are betting that they're going to make money. Anything that I've learned about rich, powerful folk is that they don't just throw their money away. And they're not going to just, you know, be tossing it around willy nilly. So I love to see that they are investing in the future. 

We've talked on the podcast before about the importance of seeing this and framing this really and truly as what it is, which is an investment in women's sports and the importance of trying to close that pay gap in women's sports. And I need to toss in the reminder here that the highest paid NBA player makes a hundred and eighty six times the highest paid WNBA player.

So when we're thinking about investing in women's sports with these huge names on the ballot here, it's not only about the corporate sponsors, it's not only about, you know, getting paid through those avenues, but it's also about the investment at the team level. You know, that family level, there for you every second of the way, type of investment that we're seeing with this creation of this team and these types of business people and actors and influencers investing in women's sports also should get the ball rolling for other folks and powerful people to take some action, get involved, whether that's women's soccer or another woman's sport. There's money here. Take a look at what's happening right now and let's encourage a little bit more action from other people. Am I right?

Ellen: For sure. And I'd like to think that other investors and corporate sponsors will have it in their mind that if Upstart Ventures, if Alexis and Serena, if these actors and actresses are betting on women's soccer, we should too. And we know that in the past, a bunch of celebs have invested in men's sports and they continue to invest in men's sports right now. And those teams really really benefit from the celebrity endorsement of their team. You see them court-side. You see them making connections. You see them, you know, giving clout to the team. And women's sports deserve that. And they're going to gain a lot from having owners like this ownership group. 

So hopefully we see something similar with Angel City in the same way that we see, you know, Jada and Will are the 76ers partial owners and you see them at games and you see the benefits of that the 76ers reap from that. So I'm really hoping to see that same sort of positive benefit with Angel City as well. And you know on top of this, there's just so much room for growth and there's so much white space in the women's sports market. So from a corporate perspective and from a sponsorship perspective, because it's not cluttered, you can really make a mark by supporting women's sports. You're not going to get confused with a bunch of other brands.

Steph: Oh, my gosh, this is so cut and dry to me. I literally always remember the brands that support women's sports, like when we're talking about the NWSL, we have Nike, Secret, Budweiser, they're in my brain forever. CCM and women's hockey is always someone I'm going to be supporting. When I had to go buy a hockey bag two years ago, you bet I was buying CCM. Like when they stepped in and paid Brianna Decker when she technically won an All Star competition in the NHL and didn't get the monetary benefit of it. I will remember that. And they are now backing Akim Aliu in the Hockey Diversity Alliance. So these people, these brands give me positive associations, like Natasha Cloud with Converse, like all of these companies are in my memory. I am a marketer's dream, of course, but...

Ellen: You are a literal marketer's dream like you say something three times to you and you're like: "I must get this."

Steph: I must get this totally. My next sneakers will be Converse, I guarantee it, but it's true, we have financial power, women care, we have money, we're going to spend it with people that have positive associations with women's sports. It's just gonna happen.

Ellen: Yeah, you're absolutely right. And, you know, from a corporate perspective, from an investment perspective, there are a shit ton of young girls playing sports right now, more than ever. There's so many playing soccer, hockey, volleyball, gymnastics, basketball, you name it. And there's only an upward trajectory from here. Like there's only 11 teams, you know, in the NWSL by 2022. There's 32 plus teams in the majority of other leagues. We have so much room to grow. And so that's what also makes me excited for what's happening right now is that it's just like propelling this growth for the future.

Steph: And outside of soccer, too, you're more of a soccer gal. I'm more of a hockey gal. Hockey could use some serious help. It really makes me wonder what could happen there too, and the potential that we have in other sports outside of soccer right now there is the National Women's Hockey League, the NWHL and the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association, the PWHPA. The PWHPA players represent the best two hundred plus athletes in the world. But they will not play in the NWHL because they don't fund it and see it as a sustainable long term cross border league. Really, they're looking for the NHL to intervene, to have a similar setup with the WNBA and the NBA and that a WNHL could be a sister league to the NHL. But the NHL says that they won't do it as long as the NWHL is still around.

Ellen: There are so many acronyms in that, but you did a great job in covering all of that, I'm still with you.

Steph: Keep following me. It really really makes me wonder, would the NHL be less nervous to intervene even with the NWHL operating if they knew that they could bring in team owners like the L.A. Angels City has? Or if they knew that they could bring on massive corporate sponsors similar to the NWSL. Thinking here, just like a Toronto example too, right, think of the amount of power and clout that Drake behind the Toronto Raptors has brought. Let's think about these models in women's sports and more generally, how will this move up and impact the greater ecosystem of women's sports? 

I love to think big picture, Ellen. So we're talking about these teams. And my mind immediately does to, 'Ok. What does this mean for women's sports long term' and not just for the L.A. team and the L.A. city, the NWSL and women's soccer in the U.S. But what does this mean for all of women's sports? Will it positively impact everywhere in North America. Could we potentially see a team up here in Canada for soccer? Will it impact hockey? How will this impact the WNBA? I think there's a lot to dig at here with these types of big names entering the NWSL. And what I also want to probe out there is will it encourage rights holders like ESPN, NBC, CBS to cover more women's sports during primetime cable? A lot of questions. Top of mind.

Ellen: A lot of questions. But how fun is it to actually be able to ask those questions and not say no right away? You know, I feel like we've never actually been at that place before.

Steph: These are huge names backing a team. And it's nothing but exciting to me right now.

Ellen: Totally. It's going to be so fun to watch and to see what happens. And it's gonna be really interesting. And we know that the change for the women's sports ecosystem is not going to happen overnight. It's just not. We've seen very, you know, slow, gradual change since Title IX came in in the 1970s. But it does feel kind of like a magic moment right now, doesn't it? There's a lot of momentum that women's sports has been carrying for about two years or so. And it's a momentum that I've never experienced in my life before. And I preface this because I've been a sports fan since I could understand sports. Probably since I was three or four years old, Sports Center was what I'd watch every single morning and every single night. And so the fact that I'm now 27 and this is the first time that we are actually seeing this momentum and that there could be positive change in that by the time we're in our forties, maybe the NWSL is even better than the MLS like that could legit happen.

Steph: Ellen, I'm so happy to hear you say that because you have been a way more long term avid sports fan than me and I'm feeling this so to hear you say that you're feeling this has me so excited and I'm so excited to see what these networks do to amp up women's sports too when we're thinking about, you know, how how we could look in the future.

Ellen: Mm hmm. And it's. Really excellent timing, too, because the semifinals of the NWSL Challenge Cup are today, Wednesday at 12:30p.m. and 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Kind of late for us. But 10pm Eastern too. We'll cover that in the newsletter tomorrow if you don't want to stay up to watch that. The finals are on Sunday, which is going to be so much fun. And then the WNBA season is finally starting on Saturday. So just like what a time to celebrate women's sports.

Steph: What a time to be alive.

Ellen: Ok. So talking about the NWSL and Angel City was already a lot of fun and, you know, instead of going back to our WTF Moment of the Week, I just feel like because it's one of those amazing weeks, let's just keep on talking about the fun and have our Wow, That Was Fun segment.

Steph: Let's keep riding that wave. This week I'm so excited also because, you know, while it was fun, it's fun that Covid-19 testing results have come out for the majors and the quarantine/bubbling seems to be working. So that's very fun news with the NBA, zero of the 346 players tested on the NBA campus since July 13th returned positive test results. Amazing. Celebrate. MLB, six of the 10,548 tests administered through July 16th came back positive, so that's 0.05%. Wow. I'm shocked, truly. 

MLS, zero of the 1,106 individuals tested on the MLS campus from July 18th to 19th were newly confirmed positive. Again, floored. NHL, two of the 2,618 tests administered between July 13th and July 17th came back positive. So that's a percentage of 0.08%. Oh, wow. OK. That's fun. When it comes to women's leagues, there's a lot less information available online. We haven't been able to get any firm numbers with the WNBA. So if you're listening and you have those numbers, we welcome some information. And for the NWSL, reported two days ago, there are more than 2000 tests administered with zero positive results. So it's also looking really great for the NWSL.

Ellen: This is all great news. And to be honest, I'm quite surprised with the MLB. I'm a little bit nervous about the MLB because instead of them having hub cities or bubbles like the rest of the leagues, they're doing travel for a 60 game season and they're doing regional travel. So they'll be playing within their divisions for 40 of those games. But that worries me. But six right now is amazing. I'm really interested to see how that changes. But I don't want to take away, I still want to say that it's fun. I just... You know, the MLB makes me nervous.

Steph: Oh, I'm holding my breath. This is great news, but I'm floored.

Ellen: Mmhmm. Otherwise, you know, the most fun thing is that sports are finally coming back within the week and next week, too. And I mean, OK, there's been soccer for a long time. Big soccer fan. I'll watch soccer. But we need the sports ecosystem just back and altogether. So MLB is starting Thursday, a.k.a. tomorrow. Amazing news came out of the MLB earlier this week. San Francisco Giants coach Alyssa Nakken became the first woman as an on field coach, so actually on the diamond, coaching in Monday's game. So it was a preseason game. But how cool is that, that she is the first coach on the field for a spring training game?

Steph: Momentum. We've got momentum.

Ellen: Momentum baby. It's happening. WNBA, as we said, starts on Saturday. We've actually written a guide to the WNBA 2020 season, which we will also link to the show notes. Talks about everything with Covid, players to watch, players dropping out, key matchups, rookies, yada, yada, yada. Challenge Cup, as we mentioned, finals are on Sunday and then the week after the NBA starts on the 30th and NHL on August 1st. I'm friggin happy.

Steph: I'm ready. Let's go.

Steph: All right. That's The GIST of It from Ellen and I. Thanks for tuning in. If you like what you heard, tell all your friends and subscribe to The GIST of IT on Apple podcast, Spotify, Google player, Stitcher. And while you're there, please rate us five stars and leave a review.

Ellen: And in case you missed it, The GIST creates sports content, experiences and community that's by women and for all sports fans. If you like what you heard today, you have to check out our free twice weekly newsletter where every Monday and Thursday morning we give you the gist of what's going on in the sports world. If you haven't yet, subscribe at thegistsports.com. If you have a question, any comments, just want to get in touch with Stephanie and I, email us at pod@thegistsports.com, or DM us on Instagram @thegistnews.ca or @thegistusa. I'm Ellen Hyslop.

Steph: And I'm Stephanie Rotz.

Ellen: And this has been The GIST of IT. See you next Wednesday

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