The founders of The Gist and Just Women’s Sports describe what it’s like to run a women-focused media company in a male-dominated industry

  • The Gist and Just Women’s Sports are women-led, women-run, and women-focused sports-media startups.
  • The Gist markets to female sports fans, while Just Women’s Sports covers what its name suggests.
  • Ellen Hyslop and Haley Rosen explain how they built sustainable businesses and grew their audiences.

Ellen Hyslop cofounded The Gist, a sports media company aimed at female fans, in 2017. Haley Rosen founded Just Women’s Sports three years later, creating Instagram content about, well, just women’s sports.

In the last few years, the two have grown their women-led, women-run, and women-focused startups, each amassing hundreds of thousands of followers, convincing big-name startup accelerators and investors to back them, and hiring dozens of employees.

In the male-dominated sports media industry, these female founders have built long-term, profitable businesses centered on women in sports. They are among a growing number of media companies, such as Togethxr, HighlightHER, and Girls Talk Sports TV, that are focusing on female audiences as women’s sports grow in popularity.

They’re also doing it during a difficult period for sports and digital media, with layoffs and the closure of sports desks at major publications, as well as an unfavorable funding environment for startups.

Insider spoke with Hyslop and Rosen about why bringing women into sports conversations and putting women athletes center stage are both market gaps for sports fans and smart business models.

Here’s how they built their businesses and grew their audiences, from securing big-name backers like Billie Jean King to major brand sponsorships like Nike.

“We really do feel like we have proven that there’s a different way to do things in sports,” Hyslop told ESPN, “and we’ve proven that there’s a different business model that can still be successful.”

Creating communities and growing audiences

Both businesses are multi-platform, with everything from online content and articles to newsletters and podcasts. Both have hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, with Instagram and TikTok being their most popular platforms.

The Gist is well-known for its newsletters and its signature feminine and jargon-free tone aimed at its “Gisters.”

The fans are already there; all that was needed was an outlet that invited them in, according to Hyslop.

“It’s so often the case that women are left out of those sports conversations and that it can feel like a ‘boys club,'” she told me.

According to The Gist, the company’s three newsletters reach up to 850,000 inboxes, up from 500,000 in the fourth quarter of 2022.

The founders also revealed that their newsletters have maintained open rates of around 46%, which is more than double the average open rate in the media and publishing industry. They attribute their newsletter’s success to listening to their “Gisters” and learning what their audience wants.

Just Women’s Sports’ audience has also grown in the last year, primarily on Instagram and TikTok. The accounts share hilarious, impressive, relatable, and newsworthy female sports content from all levels of sport and fitness.

It had 155,000 TikTok followers in October 2022, and it is now approaching 1 million. The company has 680,000 followers on Instagram.

“That can sound like vanity metrics, and it can also sound like, ‘Oh! Followers!'” Rosen stated. “However, this means we’re reaching 800,000 more women’s sports fans than we were last year.” That has an impact and is significant.”

Rosen stated that content is the first step toward engaging women’s sports fans and getting them to attend games, all of which can bring more money into the ecosystem that will benefit athletes. She believes that media is the missing piece that will propel women’s sports into the mainstream.

Both startups have a King in their hand

In a media landscape crowded with startups attempting to do it all, The Gist and Just Women’s Sports have distinct missions and business strategies. Both have increased their revenues and attracted high-profile investors, though The Gist has relied on startup accelerators and incubators, whereas Just Women’s Sports has raised venture capital.Billie Jean King, tennis icon and women’s sports legend, is a key investor in both.

“I think it’s really cool that we have so many people that have been fighting for women’s sports and women more broadly that have been like, ‘I see this, I get it and I want to be a part of it,'” Rosen told ESPN.

The Gist has received approximately $2 million in funding from a variety of incubators and accelerators, including Meta’s Digital News Innovation Challenge, Techstars’ Comcast NBCUniversal Lift Labs Accelerator, and King’s Enterprises Program, a collaboration with R/GA and Elysian Park Ventures.

The majority of The Gist’s revenue comes from brand sponsorships, in which companies such as Nike, State Farm, and FanDuel pay to have their names appear in The Gist’s newsletters, social media posts, and podcasts. The Gist’s founders claim that the company is profitable, with annual revenue increasing by 80% to 100% year over year since 2020.

Rosen at Just Women’s Sports persuaded King, as well as several venture firms, team owners, and athlete investors, to invest in her company.

Other investors include Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty owners, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Washington Spirit, as well as athletes such as Kevin Durant, Allyson Felix, Abby Wambach, Sam Kerr, Kelley O’Hara, and Elena Delle Donne.

“Haley and her team have the vision and talent necessary to usher in a new era in sports media,” said investor Michele Kang, who owns the NWSL’s Washington Spirit.

Through two funding rounds in 2021 and 2022, the company raised nearly $10 million. According to Insider, the company’s projected revenue for 2023 is up 48% from 2022.

Modeling a more equitable future for women in sports and sports media

The Gist and Just Women’s Sports are upending the dominant sports media model of male reporters covering men’s sports. According to a study conducted by Wasserman’s The Collective, women’s sports will receive 15% of all sports media coverage in 2022. According to data from the job site Zippia, approximately 20% of sports reporters in the United States were women.

The Gist covers men’s and women’s sports equally, and its 45-person full-time and part-time staff is almost entirely female.

Despite the deviation from the norm, Hyslop stated, “We’re still doing exceptionally well as a business and growing as a business.”

Rosen has about 20 full-time employees and enjoys leading a “lean team” that is dedicated to the company’s mission. Working with passionate coworkers, she says, is inspiring and motivating.

“Every single person at Just Women’s Sports adds so much value and is so influential and impactful in the company,” Rosen told me. “We’re learning as we go, we’re making mistakes, but I can tell you there’s a ton of hustle and passion and love and desire for a better future that goes into everything we do.”10 November 2023, 3:41 p.m. ET: This story has been updated to reflect the most recent revenue projections from Just Women’s Sports.

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