JUST WOMEN'S SPORTS

In early 2021 I was brought in with Will Leivenberg to rebrand and refresh the Just Women's Sports Media Brand by CEO Haley Rosen. It is the fastest-growing media platform for women’s sports that provides news and analysis and social coverage through exclusive interviews, podcasts, videos, and other media content, and has quickly grown a passionate audience of fans, followers, and listeners. The real ambition is to really be the one-stop shop for all things women’s sports. JWS raised $6 Million recently, led by Joe Tsai’s Blue Pool Capital at a $36 million valuation. Tsai—co-founder of ecommerce giant Alibaba and owner of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, WNBA’s New York Liberty and a pair of NLL franchises—was joined by David Blitzer, Washington Spirit owner Michele Kang, Billie Jean King, sports NFT marketplace Dapper Labs and investment firm SC Holdings, as well as returning investors Will Ventures, Kevin Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures and Drive by DraftKings.

NUMBERS
Over $10 million in Series A Seed Funding
DATE
6.11.21
COMPANY
Just Women's Sports
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“The business case for women’s sports has never been clearer, and Just Women’s Sports is positioned to be the leading media platform in the space" - Brooklyn Nets Owner Joe Tsai

CHALLENGE

A nascent sports media brand in a competitive marketplace, Just Women's Sports really wanted to establish its professionalism and voice in a very crowded and saturated landscape. With massive players in the space like ESPN W and Bleacher Report's Highlight Her not fully satisfying the core demographic need, there was a space and opportunity to take advantage of. My remit was to bring the brand to the future with a sustainable design system and brand guidelines along with creative advisory and development of their core content vehicles from podcasts, motion graphics, social templates, photography, typography, color, apparel, and omnichannel signage. I took the opportunity to give JWS a fresh new look and a refined set of rules that would take them into a new chapter.

In a world where women’s sports have been perennially underfunded, under promoted, and under appreciated, Just Women’s Sports exists to shine a light on the stories, athletes and moments that define and fuel the women’s game. In a sports world dominated by men, there’s a misconception that women’s sports are somehow less than. That the quality, skills, storylines and entertainment value just don’t measure up. And with just 4% of all sports coverage dedicated to women’s sports, no one knows better.

Without airtime and awareness, the public misses out on phenomenal play and female athletes lose out on sponsors, fans, and dollars. Just Women’s Sports exists to shine a light on the stories, athletes and moments that define and fuel the women’s game. Every current sports fan is a future women’s sports fan. JWS is the gateway, and I had the unique opportunity to come in in the early stages of the startup to help shape how it would look. Launched in early 2020 by Haley Rosen, a former professional soccer player, JWS started life purely as an Instagram account but now operates its own branded platforms providing news and analysis through exclusive interviews, podcasts, videos and other content.

One of the first things I did when kicking off this rebrand was to really immerse myself in footage and imagery of women's sports to get an even stronger hold on my own fandom and history of the game. This process proved to be extremely fruitful as the iconic imagery of women who have been pioneers and game changers, trailblazing their way into these leagues and breaking down new industries with their sheer strength of will really set the tone for how the brand needed to speak to this sense of excitement, hope and hype that these photos engendered.

I created a collage of the images to really help set a tone and north star for the brand as we developed the look and feel. This key visual would go on to live as the youtube banner, the backdrop for step-and-repeat photo opportunities at events, the back of all the business cards and a lot more while really helped create a tangible piece that represented the true diversity and human side of women's sports. What emerged was a very unique spectrum of pretty much all sides of the human experience. Intersectionality within the realms of fashion, entertainment, sneakers, music, film, video games and way way more felt natural in this context, while still having a focus on the athletes and their personalities.

As CEO of Just Women's Sports Haley Rosen says in her TED talk, there is a $200 Billion addressable market out there for Women's Sports, and they wanted to position themselves at the center of that opportunity. investors include Billie Jean King, Joe Tsai, Hilary Knight, Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman of 35 Ventures and Abby Wambach. Just Women’s Sports recently announced a $6 million in a funding round and is now valued at $36 million. Rosen approached myself and Will Leivenberg to build, execute, and manage a cohesive, efficient, and results-driven marketing strategy in order to hit the company’s top-line goals in a refreshed and more professional manner befitting of this funding round.

The tagline, "Hype not guilt" is a great way to describe the paradigm shift in presenting marketing messages around women's sports as you take it away from the ecosystems perpetuated by a largely white imperialist patriarchal media landscape. From patriarchal ideologies to systemic inequality, myriad historic factors have served to stifle the growth of women’s sports and women within sports, giving rise to stark disparities between male and female athletes. And what you saw from the main players in the sports media space was the end result of media conglomerates with their large firehose of audience taking a one size fits all approach to the content in a way that was a detriment to the core audience. Women's sports were and are being covered as a second thought.

The core model of growing a following for them was based on driving sections of their larger more disparate demographic that followed their main accounts towards a vertical they had interest in, but over time what would happen with this tactic is that you get a very low engagement rate as the people following the account only have a passing interest in the subject rather than those who would seek out the account and find it of their own accord or through their own social graph. Because of this, the posts would be riddled with low quality, often times very toxic and misogynistic commentary that would turn off the core users and fans who didn't sign up to be exposed to that. This was the main disconnect where the content was not serving the needs of the customer, leaving the market ripe for disruption.

The Just Women's Sports model is radically different, it celebrates the athletes and their stories and the comment sections cultivate a fun, supportive and empowering environment due to its carful building of an engaged and interested follower base. For women’s sports to become mainstream, two key things need to happen: The games need to be accessible. One of the biggest things we hear is that people don’t know how, when or where to watch women’s sports games. Women’s sports need to be just as accessible as men’s sports. They can’t be buried on ESPN7 or scattered across multiple streaming services. Nor can they be pushed back to time slots during which only dedicated fans will tune in. They need to be readily available for both existing fans and potential fans.

There is a big market opportunity to engage and educate fans around the exciting, important and overlooked female demographic in sports, sports betting and gaming, and Just Women’s Sports is at the forefront of creating more parity in the industry. With this in mind, one of the first things that really acted like a totem for inspiration was a classic 90s Nike athletic windbreaker in bright vibrant colors. It evoked a sense of nostalgia, emanated coolness, and just felt sleek and fresh. It was playful yet modern and bursting with color, and it would become a place I would look to for inspiration as I developed the logos and color palette.

Just Women’s Sports is building on the foundation of earlier pioneers by creating a media platform that celebrates and elevates the incredible athletes and stories in women’s sports, the logo needed to make a bold statement and using a font like Futura Extra Bold Condensed, popularized by Nike, and owning it with it's own differentiated spin was something that stood out as an interesting statement. It allowed the logo to feel simultaneously familiar and fresh, with the 7% tilt of the diagonal being representative of the coverage given to Women's Sports at the time of the founding of the company. It was this forward title that looks towards a future of more equitable coverage.

JWS aims to to provide highlights, statistics and schedules for U.S. women’s basketball and soccer leagues, and bolster coverage of women’s tennis, golf softball, volleyball and surfing, among other sports both on the web and on social while offering content vehicles like podcasts and video series with the occasional branded content opportunity. In order to create this ecosystem the brand needed to have a sense of consistency and unification that was missing. This framework and organization that I developed with Will and input from Haley and the Chief of Staff of JWS Sivan Raya, would become core to the brand and key to the building of the design system.

One of the central elements of the design system was the way that the colors worked within shapes. The shape, or dash functions as a visual motif, for placing quotes, images, speech bubbles, repeated background patterns and more. It is intended as a visual flourish to be placed in the background or used to house other content or typography, acting as a vehicle rather than being presented on its own and is integral to bring all of the elements together in a cohesive manner.

Drawing inspiration from that initial north star of the sports windbreaker, purple was always a key color that felt really integral to the DNA of Just Women's Sports. Along with it I wanted a set of cooler tones and warmer pops of brightness that would work together to create a sense of lightness and optimism. This evolved further in the exploration of gradients which really brought the photography to life. The gradient usage acts like an accent to really add a sense of kinetic energy to the compositions and when used in conjunction with the JWS Rhombus shape, it really was able to shine.

From a typography stand point it was all about creating options with balance. With such an iconic logo typeface in Futura Extra Bold Condensed, a softer complementary secondary font in Source Code Pro for medium body copy and legible accent typography. Useful for attributions, captions, and when writing a paragraph and especially for use on the website. However on social, knowing that there was a need to optimize for mobile screen, going with a strong legible condensed typeface like Dharma Gothic enabled a high level of flexibility. Trade Gothic is meant to be used for headlines and quote cards as well as for numbers on stat cards and for bigger and bolder typography. 

Another undeniable piece of evidence of the appetite for this type of content came in the form of social media, the great equalizer. Women’s sports have always been caught in a chicken/egg dilemma. The gatekeepers would devote a fraction of the time, energy and investment given to men’s sports, then use the resulting lag in interest to justify continued tiny investment. While in the past, gatekeepers decided which games to put on TV and which athletes to put on magazine covers, fans now get to decide for themselves which athletes they want to follow on social media. And the results are impossible to deny. Developing a great social strategy was of key importance and a challenge that me and Will had a great time taking on.

Along with developing and copywriting a core brand marketing strategy and narrative from scratch, building out a refreshed logo system, and color palette I also worked with Matt Sanoian to create a robust set of social templates that Just Women's Sports could use across their social media channels to create breaking news coverage, quote cards, merchandising vehicles, score updates, power rankings, infographics and much much more. This system took the core elements of the typography, color and voice and created tangible examples of the brand in the wild where fans could engage with them.

The first step in getting the eye balls is to cultivate a following that get relevant information from JWS before anyone else, this meant creating a system of templates that could easily and efficiently be optimized and updated and posted at a rapid pace. JWS was competing with the largest players in the space, so it was important to provide any first movers advantages we could to offset the budget disparity. The next step is for the conversation to change among those controlling where advertising dollars are spent. People are seeing the numbers, the growth and the momentum building around women’s sports, and it’s becoming harder and harder to deny. When you pair these new, appealing vehicles with the opportunity for sponsors to be attached, you get an ecosystem in which a media company can form and thrive.

There were core brand pillars that helped define the vibe of the social templates and the most important one was to champion the game. To treat sports like SPORTS instead of putting women's sports in it' own category. We’re not ignoring athletes’ drip in the tunnel pre-game or their fight for social justice post-game. Sports culture matters. But these athletes are always athletes first. Furthermore, developing a social voice and tone, along with guidelines for things like emoji use was important to maintain the right balance of irreverence and wit.

The content templates are meant to say that "we’re edgy, not assholes" and that JWS' voice is rooted in a very youthful tone, swagger, style and energy. Guilt doesn’t move the needle. Excitement does. The energy of sports is contagious, and the mission of these templates is to capture, harness and amplify that energy for women’s sports fans everywhere. The copywriting needed to feel polished, but relatable. When Taurasi hits a game winner, what do you text your WhatsApp or iMessage group thread? Bring that same energy to the voice of JWS. Witty, celebratory, clear and on-point.

The best way to engage a diverse audience is to first, invest in a diverse team, and second, to showcase the diversity of the game. We value the colorful threads that make up the fabric of culture, and choose to celebrate how that shines bright in women’s sports today, and always. This means having a content and creative system that is flexible for different platforms and is able to adapt to the voice and tone appropriate for each channel. Just like the athletes we cover, we want to be the best whether that is on a social platform like Instagram or on the web or even IRL at experiential activations.

JWS not only fills a major void, but does so with an energy and ethos that empowers fans and drives engagement with authentic connection and community built through multiple content vehicles. This unique and holistic coverage of women's sports required a social strategy that could adapt to the diversity of stories the brand would cover. After doing a market analysis there were a few things that became clear. It became important to show the audience rather than to tell or preach to them. We already know women’s sports are dope and the content makes it clear that that’s a given and not something we have to constantly reaffirm. Furthermore, it was important to be inclusive and open JWS is fun but not sarcastic, feminine but not girly, strong but not masculine, supportive of women but never disparaging of anyone.

Another exciting development around Just Women's Sports was with the updated guidance and laws around the NIL and the ways that college athletes could monetize their likeness and image. This paradigm shift in the ways that the country looked at student athletes allowed for JWS to step in with its "SQUAD" program which I did the creative direction, merch, logo and design development for. The Just Women’s Sports Varsity Squad is a one-of-a-kind program that gives select college athletes the opportunity to work in tandem with JWS to elevate and grow women’s sports coverage. Athletes have the chance to build their brands with an assist from industry insiders while simultaneously using their voices to promote JWS’ mission. As part of the program, every year, 13 student-athletes will learn about the media profession while working to elevate and grow women’s sports coverage alongside JWS. These athletes will also have the chance to build their brands with an assist from industry insiders as they use their voices and platforms to promote JWS’ mission.

I really believe a lot of mainstream sports media is built around men’s sports. If you look at a lot of the major networks in the US, they focus on the NFL, NBA, MLB – these are all men’s sports leagues. They have audiences that are there for men’s sports brands that want to sponsor men’s sports. For us, I think that there’s a real opportunity to go do that and build that for women’s sports and set up a structure that is set up for women’s sports to just dominate and bring in brands that want audiences there for women’s sports. When Haley and Sivan brought me and Will in to take a crack at refreshing and revamping the entire brand, it was an opportunity I didn't take lightly. I am deeply passionate about cultivating a space for women's sports to thrive, and I was able to dive this passion into the work, and I think it shows in the final product. This really is a unique opportunity to shape a brand that will be present in the women's sports mix for a long time.

The collaborative process really created an in depth framework that JWS could use throughout it's collateral on multiple levels. I got to see this come to fruition when JWS partnered with my former colleague from Bleacher Report and House of Highlights, Starr Nathan to produce this amazing video series for the Legends collection merch drop that I provided creative advisory for. The video series took the brand guidelines and really brought them to live on a video canvas in a unique way that really showcases what the guidelines are capable of when pushed. Starr is one of the most talented film makers I know, and for her to take the brand and turn it into such a powerful touchpoint for true women's sports fans speaks to the chance we have to do something really memorable.

This type of coverage makes you ask what if it had been like this from the start. Born of a lack of media coverage, chronic underfunding and archaic attitudes towards female participation, the question itself speaks to what might have been. Within it lies the inescapable feeling that women’s sport would be far further down the road to commercial maturity had decades of institutionalized sexism and gender stereotyping not served to inhibit the potential of female athletes across the board. But with the opportunity now at hand, content examples like the Legends collection with a unique ecommerce integration and content plan show what a media company positioned directly for an audience that loves women's sports is capable of.

At the crux of this project was really an opportunity to make a mark on a growing market, but also to put your money where your mouth is and really take tangible action to create a more equitable landscape for sports media. Working on Just Women's Sports is something that I am really proud of and represents a tangible chance to mitigate the deleterious effects that years of audiences cultivated on a traditional, outgrown, toxic masculinity filled model and brings them to a fresh oasis of content and experiences built just for them. Why go for hand me downs when you can have something that is truly your own? Why capitulate to men's sports when the women's game can truly make a space just as vibrant and exciting.

One of the final things I really had a chance to shape in this creative advisory role was the investor deck and materials as the company went to market to woo investment. This all culminated in a massive $6 million raise, led by Joe Tsai’s Blue Pool Capital at a $36 million valuation. Tsai—co-founder of ecommerce giant Alibaba and owner of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, WNBA’s New York Liberty and a pair of NLL franchises—was joined by David Blitzer, Washington Spirit owner Michele Kang, Billie Jean King, sports NFT marketplace Dapper Labs and investment firm SC Holdings, as well as returning investors Will Ventures, Kevin Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures and Drive by DraftKings. Athletes including Allyson Felix, Abby Wambach, Sam Kerr, Paul Rabil and Apolo Ohno also joined the round, which brings the company’s total capital raised to $10 million.