The GIST’s Ellen Hyslop Explains How Her Sports Media Startup Is Attacking Unconscious Bias

Back in 2017, Ellen Hyslop and her co-founders, Jacie deHoop and Roslyn McLarty, noticed that sports media didn’t do enough to include people like them in two ways — by telling the stories of women, and by failing to promote women to tell those stories, whether in men’s or women’s sports.

So they decided to do something about it. The GIST was born. Their hypothesis that there is an underserved audience for these two missions now has 100,000 signups to argue that they are correct.

Hyslop, a member of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Class of 2020 in media, discussed how this came about, and other topics, in an email interview this week.

Ellen, your mission is twofold: to attack the gap in coverage of women’s sports, and to address the lack of women in sports writing in general. How do you see those missions overlapping, and in what ways do they differ as you approach this space?

Great question. I would start by saying there’s a third element to the mission as well, which is making sports more accessible and inclusive to traditionally underserved audiences. And I think that all three of those elements of The GIST’s mission are very correlated.

Less than 4{066dbc63777e5ed549f406789d72fdeebd77a32711d57f7b38ff2b35c4ba2a42} of sports media coverage is on female athletes and less than 14{066dbc63777e5ed549f406789d72fdeebd77a32711d57f7b38ff2b35c4ba2a42} of sports journalists are female. 

We believe that increased diversification and representation of female sports journalists, will result in increased coverage of female athletes. Most female journalists inherently believe in the value and potential of women’s sports and generally are more inclined to push for that increase in coverage. 

This, in turn, has the potential to unlock more fans. Something we’ve learned at The GIST is that there is a massive number of women (and men!) who are interested in sports news provided in a female voice and perspective. This previously undervalued fan will only grow with increased representation in the industry and by feeling like sports are a welcoming community for them (women are tired of being challenged about their sports fandom!). 

On a similar note, the old adage “if you can see it, you can be it,” comes into play. The result of more female athletes and female sports journalists in the media? More women in sports. 

To complete the cycle, the larger the audience of female, or non-traditional sports fans, and the more demand they have to watch women’s sports, the more support and money — not only from a salary perspective but also from an endorsement perspective — female athletes will receive, which in turn will increase girls’ participation in sports as being a pro athlete will become a much more viable career. 

At the end of the day, with women-created content, community and experiences, our goal is to improve upon each of these individual elements in hopes that we can spark change/improve the sports industry on the whole. 

You’ve been all-in on the newsletter format early on. As that becomes more crowded, what do you think allows The GIST to stand out the way it has?

When we started The GIST, newsletters were a bit less en vogue, but it’s been a lot of fun to watch newsletters become a platform for more unique voices to grow engaged, niche audiences through. 

I think one of the key reasons why we stand out is because we’ve always started with the “why” behind the newsletter: the mission of leveling the playing field, the notion of bringing a conversational female voice to a traditionally male-dominated space, and the fact that we were serving an untapped, underserved market. 

The GIST is all about bringing long-absent female voices and perspectives to the forefront, which allows us to provide a refreshing angle on sports in comparison to the traditional male-dominated sports space. And with that comes equal coverage for both men’s and women’s sports. Get your NFL and your USWNT news in the same place.

In comparison to traditional media, we’re also talking to all sports fans. We want to be that witty, sports-obsessed best friend that you turn to learn more. We provide curation and context so that the newsletter is a meaningful read no matter someone’s background or experience.

At the same time, our newsletter is fun and lighthearted — we’re the opposite of the exclusive or dry format that you’re used to seeing in traditional sports columns. We want to welcome people into the sports community, not push them away from it. 

We hold ourselves to very high journalistic standards, producing high-quality and thoughtful content in each and every newsletter, while also having an irreverent voice and inclusive takes.

What does The GIST look like in five years, if all goes according to plan?

Our vision is for The GIST to be the go-to source for sports for underserved sports fans, or what we like to call a “new type” of sports fan or “evolving” sports fan. 

We’re very proud of what we have accomplished thus far, but we feel like we’re just scratching the surface in terms of the value we’re providing our GISTers (our audience) and in terms of leveling the playing field in sports. 

We’re actually currently in the process of closing $1M in financing, which we intend to use to scale up our growth, team, and offerings. We’re excited about the response we’ve received from our community so far and are ready to double down.

I don’t want to give too much away, but you can expect a lot more from us over the next five years!

Take me through what it felt like in the moment, as you passed 100,000 email subscribers. How validating was it, and how did you celebrate?

Surpassing 100,000 subscribers was a massive milestone for our team, but also for our GIST community — it felt like a huge win for anyone who is a supporter of women in sports. 

It was the first major milestone that felt like “wow, lots of people are really enjoying our newsletter!” and also, “whoa, we are having a major impact.” By surpassing 100,000 subscribers, we were also able to start working with some great brand partners and begin earning meaningful revenue that we’ve used to reinvest in the growth of the business. 

In terms of celebrating, it was a little bit harder as it happened over the pandemic, but we were able to have a team Zoom happy hour to celebrate!

Do you think the industry as a whole will be impacted by the success of The GIST, and if so, how will we see it manifest itself?

Definitely. Our goal is to diversify the face of sports media, to push equal coverage and to create a more inclusive definition of a “sports fan.” 

The GIST’s success is impacting the industry as a whole by challenging the way sports have traditionally been reported on in terms of the voices we’re centering, the equal coverage we’re providing, and the audience we’re speaking to. 

We’re demonstrating that it’s possible to be successful in this new model where sports fans, men and women alike, consume sports news that has a female voice and perspective and that has equal coverage on men’s and women’s sports. This hypothesis has been largely untested perhaps in part to the unconscious (or conscious) bias engrained in legacy sports media.

The market conditions are ripe for a shift. Female fandom is growing, women’s sports are growing and female purchasing power and control of wealth is growing.

We truly believe that for the entire sports industry to grow, it needs to include, and meaningfully engage with, underserved sports fans. And part of that equation includes hiring people and covering athletes that are representative of a wider audience. The potential for The GIST to be a part of that shift is why we do what we do.

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