Women-led sports media startup The GIST raises $1M to challenge sports reporting norms

The three co-founders of The GIST are all themselves sports fans, but realized in 2018 that sports media in general left a lot to be desired when it comes to catering to audiences outside of the male-dominated, stereotypical sports audience. So they started a new kind of sports media enterprise, taking a risk on a very different kind of careers vs. their background in financial services in Toronto.

On the back of impressive 350% audience through 2020, c-founders Jacie DeHoop, Ellen Hyslop and Roslyn McLarty have now raises an initial $1 million round of seed funding, from investors including 3GP Capital, JDS Sports, August Group, Even Odds Investments, and Bettor Capital. The company also just got approved for a $350,000 loan from the Business Development Bank of Canada, bringing its total new funding across venture and state-backed credit incentives to $1.35 million.

“In the sports industry, as you probably are aware, less than 4% of coverage is on female athletes, and less than 14% of sports journalists are women,” explained McLarty, who is also The GIST’s head of finance, operations and growth. “It’s no wonder, as women, we don’t necessarily resonate with the the more traditional male-dominated sports media and the way that sports is represented. So we were finding it hard to be a part of that community sports can provide, and around the same time, we were seeing a trend of media companies developing these more authentic relationships with their audience, and building community and being built a little bit more ground up, and that being really effective.”

McLarty cites other media ventures including theSkimm, Morning Brew and The Hustle as examples of what her and her co-founders saw was working well in media. That approach, combined with what they saw as a massive potential untapped audience, led to the creation of The GIST, which because as a newsletter and has evolved into a news site, a podcast and more.

“We started with the purpose of making sports more accessible, inclusive, approachable and fun for a casual fan, or a female fan,” she said. “For anyone really, that hadn’t resonated with traditional sports media.”

I asked McLarty why her and her co-founders wanted to get into the media business specifically, given that their experience prior to that was on Bay Street, which is effectively Toronto’s equivalent of Wall Street. She admitted that it took the trio some time to find their footing, but that now the business has opened up a new and growing audience that basically wasn’t served previously, which is helping them win over advertisers and brand partnerships.

“I think we’ve discovered an audience that is really valuable, and there hasn’t really been a way for brand partners to engage with a female audience through sports,” she said. “So we’ve kind of found our niche, and have built really built things out and gotten to the point where we are today in a really lean lean way. The hard part was the initial investment in the audience to get it to the point where it is now, but once you hit that scale in the audience, the margins on the newsletter are obviously awesome for every additional person that we add on.”

The GIST’s partners include brands like the NBA, FanDuel, Red Bull and Adidas, to name a few, and it says its revenue is up over 1,000% this year vs. the year prior, on course to meet its goal of $1 million in total revenue for 2021. The company says it will be using the new funding to grow the team, including new hires on the content side, as well as additional headcount on the sales and operation teams, too.