Sports news for women and by women: Welcome to The GIST

This is one in a series of stories that highlights each company in the 2019 class of the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars. Visit LIFT Labs to learn more about this world-class program for connectivity, media and entertainment startups, and get information on applications for the next class.

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," McLarty said. "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?"

That conversation paved the way for The GIST, which creates sports content, experiences and a community that's for women by women. Founded by Hyslop, McLarty and deHoop, the company offers a free, semiweekly 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 and engaging.

"Sports are a powerful connector and a social currency in our society," deHoop said. "But for many women, this is a currency they do not have access to and a community they are excluded from."

Indeed, the sports industry is geared heavily toward men:

· Less than 14 percent of sports journalists are women

· Only 4 percent of sports media content is dedicated to female athletes

· Of the C-suite executives in the four major sports leagues (NHL, NFL, MLB and the NBA), less than 2 percent 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," Hyslop said. "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. It gets more than 1 million monthly digital impressions — and they're only covering Toronto and Ottawa teams at the moment. On September Sept. 5, they launched 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 gave them valuable connections to Comcast NBCUniversal executives, as well as and experts in the Techstars network who've built successful companies. The LIFT Labs Accelerator has exceeded their expectations.

"We met a lot of people who genuinely want to help, are curious about our space and ask hard questions," deHoop said. "It's been great. We're also new to Philly and have been pleasantly surprised by how welcoming everybody has been."

McLarty said that 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 and brackets for events like the FIFA Women's World Cup and March Madness. They also have live chats around major events, like when the Toronto Raptors had their NBA Championship run this past spring. The GIST also have has 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, which is why they're bringing down the barriers of entry and eliminating the mansplaining. 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," Hyslop said.

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," Hyslop 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."

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