Sports

TOGETHXR Wants To Disrupt The ‘Vicious Cycle’ Women’s Sports Are Stuck In

At the beginning of March, a quartet of Olympic gold medal winners — Alex Morgan, Sue Bird, Chloe Kim, and Simone Manuel — announced a new media endeavor, TOGETHXR. The goal was simple: Create an outlet that will cover women’s sports and tell the stories that are so often not covered by major sports outlets.

To head up content, they brought in Jessica Robertson, the former head of content at the Players Tribune, to be their Chief Content Officer and help them put together a plan for launch and beyond, identifying the stories and series they wanted to promote from the start. Among the first of those was the “More Than A Name” series, which chronicles young athletes who are related to famous male athletes and are both following in their footsteps while also trying to carve out a name for themselves. The debut episode was on UCLA freshman softball star Maya Brady, who is the niece of Tom Brady and Kevin Youkilis, as well as the daughter of Maureen Brady, a softball star at Fresno State in her college days.

Robertson recently spoke with Uproxx about the series and how the inspiration for it started with Kobe and Gianna Bryant, as well as how TOGETHXR is looking do create a new lane for outlets to talk about women’s sports and culture, what they have planned for this year, and how Draymond Green’s recent comments fail to see efforts like TOGETHXR’s to create the interest and break the “vicious cycle” of women’s sports.

Hey Jessica, how are you?

I’m good. I’m not gonna lie, I just saw Draymond Green’s response to, I guess the response to his tweets last night. That’s a fascinating take he has [laughs].

That’s certainly a word for it.

I don’t know. Did you see what he said last night?

Yeah, the thing about how he’s tired of hearing women complain about equal pay.

[sighs] Yeah.

Honestly, I think it’s actually a good place to start because it is kind of the reason y’all started this company. You want to shine a light on women’s sports and tell these stories. How did you come to join this and when y’all were coming together with an early plan of what you wanted to do, what were the conversations like and what were the things y’all were excited to be able to do with TOGETHXR?

I always start with Alex, Alex Morgan. I think this has been an ambition of hers for years now. Obviously existing firsthand in equity in the sports landscape throughout her career and I think she’s had a few sort of pivotal moments where she’s looked around and she’s like, “Wait, we’re, we’re winning or generating revenue, we’re selling out, we’re selling out merch, like we keep doing all the things we say we can’t do or that we need to do to prove our worth. But there’s no real investment coming back in.”

But more importantly, you know, I think she and Sue and Chloe and Simone, the rest of the co-founders, outside of the women they stand next to in their own experiences every single day, they’re thinking about the next generation. I think certainly Alex, becoming a mother and having a daughter, Charlie, she thinks about her future, just to personalize it. But holistically, they’re thinking about what the next generation will experience and how they can impact change across the board.

We talk a lot about this sort of vicious cycle that happens in women’s sports which is, you know the stuff, there’s four percent visibility and media coverage. So what I say is, if there’s no media coverage — if no one’s growing visibility — then it’s really hard to generate viewership, to grow fan bases and communities in women’s sports. And if there aren’t people in the seats, if there aren’t people tuned in, if the fandom isn’t growing, then brands and other people with dollars to invest aren’t going to invest. And if people don’t think that there’s no dollars to be made, then media companies will not cover the sport because they aren’t going to profit off of that coverage.

So for us it’s about disrupting that cycle. You know, we’re entering a big white space, I think. There are some brands that cover women’s sports, but they’re small. It’s not even just about the coverage, it’s the type of coverage, it’s the quality of coverage, the breadth of coverage. There are some brands that have built large communities around women, they tend to be lifestyle and beauty or wellness focused, but there’s a huge white space where I think TOGETHXR enters into to bring sport and culture together for women. And our goal is, like I said, to disrupt that cycle.

Consciously we think about that, but more importantly, we just want to tell really great stories that happen to center women. And, you know over time, while we feel like a first, I think there will be seconds and thirds and fourths, and, you know, maybe Charlie, when she grows up, this is just the norm. It doesn’t feel radical.

And I think the thing that is the most frustrating about comments like Draymond’s is where he says they’re not offering a plan, they’re not offering steps, but there is a plan there. Like, people have been offering these concepts for a while and like you said this is part of the plan. This is part of that plan of here’s how we grow this thing, and it starts with something like this.

Exactly. We’re just gonna do it. Which is very much like a woman, right? I also think Draymond is blaming the wrong people. To your point, there are plans, there’s been a lot of solutions offered. I would say there’s receipts, and he’s actually targeting the wrong group of people. I would trust his intent, but I would say he probably should listen first. I think personally it’s decision-makers at brands, at media companies, and elsewhere — governing bodies — and questions of their level of investment and why decisions haven’t been made to consciously and consistently invest. I think we see it every four years around the World Cup or around the Olympics, but we don’t see it consistently every single day.

I also think that culturally, some of the cultural reckonings and social reckonings we’ve needed to have for a long time around race, sexuality, gender, we’re having them, and I think culture is catching up to the women’s sports landscape a little bit. Because women’s sports is sort of ground zero for a lot of these -isms and conversation. So it’s hard to talk about why there hasn’t been an investment without, one, talking about decision makers, but, two, just sort of talking about massaging in all the other isms that surround this space. But TOGETHXR, actually, embraces that and knows that if we can just tell really incredible, powerful stories consistently, people will show up because of the content that’s there right now.

This “More Than A Name” series that starts with Maya Brady, I thought was a terrific start for that in terms of this particular series. When you were coming up with with early ideas you wanted to do, how did this series come together and shuffle its way into something you want to do early on? And, obviously Maya was a really great first subject for that?

It started actually with Kobe and Gigi. A year ago, well, over a year ago — we’ve been in build mode for a year and a half so you have to forgive me, time is a flat circle — we were thinking about format franchise IP concepts, and I worked with Kobe for quite some time at The Players Tribune. Once he retired, obviously his interest and investment was particularly in women’s basketball, I think, generally because of who he was, but also especially because of his daughter. And I was thinking, Kenyon Martin talks about his own kids and Shaquille O’Neal has a couple of incredible daughters who are playing it at elite level in college and in high school, and I was like, it would be really interesting to sort of do a series on the women who carry big last names and have big shoes to fill, but celebrate them as individuals and their own accomplishments for who they are. So that was the ambition. Obviously, you know, tragic events changed [things] and sort of the original intent, but I think the idea of finding these incredible athletes who happen to be related to famous male athletes so excited us, because we want to celebrate them as individuals.

And Maya Brady was I think the person perfect launch for the series, because obviously the legacy of her uncle. But you know, he even says that she’s the best athlete in the family. I think there’s a lot of layers to her story in particular, outside of being an incredible athlete and having a huge future in front of her. She comes from one incredible athlete and her family with Tom Brady, but Kevin Youkilis and her mom, too, her mom was one of the best pitchers in the country at Fresno State. And I think we wanted to contextualize maybe her athletic ability, but really celebrate her and her identity for who she is.

It’s a story, yes, about family legacy, but it’s also a story about a freshman girl in college who’s doing things her own way and and sort of exploring what identity means to her especially being a biracial woman in this world. I think it was powerful, it was resonant, and she was such a fascinating figure.

Yeah, and when you were mentioning all the -isms that that work within women’s sports I thought about, like you said, the end her at the end of video when she says, “I always knew that we were different from the rest of the family and how we looked, but it didn’t really become a thing until later.” And then going to UCLA where she has more Black teammates and it seems like she’s embracing this identity as somebody who can break down some of those barriers for Black women and bring more Black girls in the softball. And I thought that was a really interesting portion towards the end of that, and like you said, an important way to kind of shift it to, this is what she’s now doing and how she sees herself beyond that family connection.

Yeah and I think it’s also easy to compare women athletes generally to male athletes, especially if they’re related to famous male athletes. So we really wanted to elevate her as an individual, and where she stands and the power that she holds in herself and also her ability as an athlete. Softball in the past, I think it’s been a predominantly white sport, it’s increasingly changing, which is incredible to see. I think the same thing is happening in soccer and for her to lean into that and and celebrate it and own it is really powerful, especially for, I think the rest of the softball to see.

But also, what we want to do is to continue to create these “see it, be it” moments. Telling Maya Brady’s story may radically change a 9-year-old girl’s life. And if we’re not there to tell it and no one’s there to tell it, then think about all the lives that can’t be impacted. So hers is resonant for so many reasons, especially the one that you highlighted.

The entire premise I found really interesting, because I recently did an interview with Lexie Brown about being the face of the retro release of the the Reebok Pumps which her dad had made famous in the ’91 Dunk Contest. And we talked about some of the same things, which is embracing the legacy but also wanting to do your own thing. I think there’s … everybody’s relationship with their name and with their family is different, so I guess the question is, is that something you think is going to make this series unique, because each episodes going to tell a different story and I think you can kind of show how everybody handles that differently?

Yeah, I think it can be a weight, probably. For a lot of people, a burden. It’s also an opportunity, I think sometimes that last name can open doors for you. But when that door’s open, then ultimately, it’s you as an individual that has to step through it and then deliver, right? We’re talking about your legacy, not the legacy of the name that’s on your back every single day. That’s part of your legacy and that’s part of the power that you have, but the question is, like, as an individual who are you? I would imagine, obviously I don’t have that experience, but I would imagine, navigating this world with the weight of a big last name that’s literally on your back sometimes can be complicated. Because people associate you with someone else’s greatness first, and not necessarily your own. So I think it’s probably a life’s mission to establish yourself and your own greatness apart from that name. Even as that name, like I said, it’s sometimes a really big opportunity.

Finally, you mentioned that y’all have been in this build mode for some time. What are the things that folks can be looking forward to and what’s going to be coming from y’all in this first year here, as y’all continue to put out new series and new content that you personally are really excited about?

How much time do you have [laughs]? Some of the things I’m not allowed to say on record yet, but I can sort of talk around them, and we’re gonna have one new big show every single month that drops on YouTube. The next one that we do have premiering in mid-April is called Surf Girls Kaikaina — kaikaina means little sister in Hawaiian. It’s about this cool surf collective in Hawaii. It’s about their friendship, their sisterhood, but also their competitiveness. They compete against one another, but they’re also friends, and, they also embrace the legacy of Hawaiian surf culture and want to see it thrive and carry on beyond themselves. It’s beautiful, it’s cool these girls are really compelling and I can’t wait for the world to see them and meet them.

We’re paying attention to the culture calendar a lot, so we have some really exciting franchises coming up around Pride Month, around the 25th anniversary of the WNBA — that’s gonna be a big tentpole for us. An incredible series, and I can’t wait to share, I would say it’s one of our co founders in the lead-up to Tokyo. So, when I can share more information I’ll be happy to do that.

And then a big priority for us is really leaning in the longform in addition to some of these episodic series that you’re seeing on our channel. We just announced yesterday, we’re doing a narrative long form podcast with Alex and Sue executive producing that revisits and retells the history of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. I say it’s probably one of the most important, if not the most important moment in women’s sports history. It’s also an opportunity to look back and see how far we’ve come, or how far we haven’t come, and kind of look to the future. Especially as they go into these Tokyo Games and this’ll be the 25th anniversary of that. We have a couple of big documentary projects in development.

I would love to share more there, but just know that these will feel like big impactful cultural stories that happen to step through a sport prism, but more to come on those. We’re excited about them.

×