Haley Rosen is the CEO and founder of Just Women’s Sports, a new platform that provides a one-stop-shop for all women’s sports fans.
Every two years for a few weeks during the Olympics, images of female athletes are splashed across our televisions, computers, and magazines, their talent and ability celebrated and on full display. So why, when the Olympic games are over, do these athletes seem to simply fade away? Former pro-athlete Haley Rosen doesn’t think it’s a lack of interest, but rather a lack of coverage. That’s why she decided to start Just Women’s Sports, an online platform dedicated exclusively to women’s sports coverage all year round. We spoke with Rosen about how her career as a professional soccer player eventually led to her founding JWS, her thoughts on social media’s ability to make stars of female Olympians, and which sport she thinks is really crushing it when it comes to gender equality.
KCM: Where did the inspiration to start Just Women’s Sports come from?
Haley Rosen: I played soccer at Stanford, and then I played professionally for a little bit in the United States and abroad — I was in the National Women’s Soccer League and then I played in the Scottish Premier League. I had a pretty injury-riddled few years, so my career ended a lot sooner than I would’ve wanted. I came back to the Bay Area and had a lot of peers that were working at tech startups, and I ended up at a virtual reality training company. It was a total dream job, and it did two things for me. First, it showed me what a startup was. I joined the company at a pretty early stage, and I also saw the chaos and the questions and thought, “I could do this.” The second thing the job did for me was give me a glimpse into the women’s sports world from a perspective that wasn’t as an athlete. I was still so interested in following women’s sports and watching my friends and former teammates play, but I found that even though I was actively seeking this content out, there was no easy way to find it. Only between 2 and 4 percent of sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sports. And then when you do find it, so much of the coverage is wrapped in pink and glitter, like it’s for very young viewers. When I realized a platform like that didn’t exist, I decided to take the leap and start Just Women’s Sports.
If you want to know why I think it’s time for all of us to pay attention to women’s sports, I just say, look at the Kardashians. They basically invented reality TV, and then social media, and now they’re investing in women’s sports. When I saw the announcement that Kim Kardashian’s company Skims would be the official designer of the underwear for female members of Team USA at the Olympics, I thought, “Women’s sports to the moon, baby!”
Why do you think female athletes get more attention at the Olympics than they do in the rest of their careers?
Women really rise to the top in the U.S. when it comes to the Olympics. They get the media coverage, they blow up, and then the games end and they don’t get media coverage. You can’t sustain interest when there’s no coverage. There’s always so much momentum when female athletes get the time of day, but it’s a question of how to sustain that enthusiasm when networks stop covering these players. That’s why we wanted to create a space where these athletes are covered year-round, to sustain their popularity and give fans what they want. I also think that in the age of social media, when some of these young female Olympians become stars overnight, they can then turn that popularity into endorsement deals. Social media has been the great equalizer in women’s sports. It’s really hard to say that people don’t care about women’s sports when you see female athletes with millions of followers. Having a large social reach is huge, and it’s allowed these women to monetize and build brands in ways we’ve never seen before, and really take back power and tell their own stories. But I see it as a very symbiotic relationship — there needs to be an ecosystem where fans are introduced to these people in order to build out more stars. The NBA has so many stars — every team has three or four players with millions of followers. We want women’s leagues to get there, but that requires an ecosystem because if you start following an athlete you love but have nowhere to actually watch them compete, then what’s the point?
Do you think that the lack of coverage of women’s sports is an inherently American thing?
No. Although I will say that European football — soccer — is really starting to invest on the women’s side. So momentum there is rapidly growing, and you’re seeing on the world stage that these teams are going further and they’re competing more with the U. S. Women’s National Soccer Team. I’m very curious to see how that plays out because it’s a good example of what happens when you take real dollars and invest heavily upfront. Generally, women’s sports get very little funding, and they’re expected to prove so much to get a bigger investment, whereas we see men’s leagues come and go but they’ll start with hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. Then we wonder why men’s sports grow faster than women’s. It’s not rocket science. A lot of really talented women stop playing before they get to the national level because they can’t support themselves just from the paycheck they’re making as a player. So you have a lot of highly educated, incredibly talented female athletes that are sleeping on couches, just trying to make ends meet. And at some point, they decide they don’t see a path in which they can make playing a lifelong career that will support them, in the way men can.
Tennis is an example of a sport that seems to have broken through the gender divide when it comes to coverage. Why do you think that is?
I think tennis has done three things exceedingly well. The first is terminology. It’s not “Wimbledon” and “Women’s Wimbledon,” or “The US Open” and “The Women’s US Open.” When competitions do that, it’s like they’re putting a little asterisk next to the female athletes. The second thing is that everyone plays in the same stadiums and on the same courts. It sets the standard that these events are of equally high caliber. Then the third thing is media attention — they treat men’s and women’s all as one. That’s the magic formula: Use consistent language, give equal access to facilities, and cover each side equally.