NEW YORK — Women’s sports leagues are banding together for the first time with a new initiative — SheIS.
Eight leagues, including the WNBA, U.S. Tennis Association, Women’s Pro Fastpitch League and Canadian Women’s Hockey, will try to help each other increase resources, viewership and attendance.
“Each commissioner has agreed to come to one and another’s events,” WNBA President Lisa Borders told The Associated Press. “Women have to support women before you ask other people to support you. I’ll buy a ticket to a hockey game in Canada or a fastpitch softball game.”
All the league commissioners signed a pledge and filmed a public service announcement promoting the movement. Those will start rolling out Tuesday.
“It’s a social media campaign for now, but will grow,” Borders added. “This is only tier one.”
The initiative was the brainchild of Brenda Andress, who is the commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. She first came up with the idea last November.
“This collective sports voice has never been heard. I wanted to create some type of program or challenge to bring women together that was born out of positivity,” Andress said. “So I thought of SheIS. When I thought of myself, she is a grandmother with young kids. She is a commissioner. She is a hockey player. She is anything she wants to be. That’s where SheIS came from.”
Andress reached out to Borders and USTA chief executive Stacey Allaster, who quickly jumped on board.
“Right off the bat, they were so supportive,” Andress said. “We have to do it together. Let’s do it, but let’s do it right. It’s going to be professional, top notch. It’s about us as females recognizing we can bring the fans not just to hockey, but to the WNBA. Tennis needs more eyes on the TV. It’s not about everyone else making the difference for us, but us making the difference for ourselves.”
There has been much discussion over the years about the wage gap between the genders in sports. Tennis is one of the few sports where the women have some parity with the men as far as earnings. All four Grand Slam events pay the two sexes equally.
“I think the secret sauce for women’s tennis started with our athletes,” Allaster said. “It took their advocacy and courage to stand up to the establishment much like soccer players and female hockey players have. It was Billie Jean King and the ‘Original 9’ saying they’d do this back in the 1970s. The athletes have the power and SheIS is a great time to energize our athletes.”
The SheIS group need only look as far as Seattle to see a group already using this format of cross-sport support. Force 10 Sports Management owns and operates the Seattle Storm. The group also runs the Seattle Reign of the women’s soccer league and the Seawolves of the rugby league. There is cross-promotion among the sports.
“Seattle is absolutely the model,” Borders said. “They were doing that before SheIS is born.”
The city itself has also embraced female athletes such as Sue Bird, Megan Rapinoe and Breanna Stewart.
Before the launch Tuesday, members of the founding committee, league commissioners and prominent members from across the sports world gathered at the WNBA office in New York to sign the SheIS pledge.
“The heroes who run, walk and play among us make up 51 per cent of the global population, yet have little to no visibility in the sports world,” said Dr. Jen Welter, who was the first female coach in the NFL. “SheIS will give the first true platform for these real-world, real-women heroes who have been living among us. With that comes the opportunity to be much more visible and for female athletes and their supporters to join forces in a really positive way. I love that this bubbling movement is coming from the sports industry, because sports has the ability to change the world.”
Andress expects other sports like soccer, gymnastics, swimming, cycling and running to join the movement.
The initiative isn’t just limited to sports leagues. The WWE also signed on, with Stephanie McMahon taking the pledge.
“Women for so long have been competitive no matter what they do in life,” WNBA player Chiney Ogwumike said. “We are even more powerful when we are collaborative. In public, we have to support each other.”