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4/3/2024 |  Google Trends releases data for searches related to women’s sports in March (Gist Sports, The)

The GIST: March was a wild month for women’s sports, complete with a March Madness tournament that’s transforming women’s college basketball and an NWSL season kickoff garnering more media coverage than ever. To celebrate a Women’s History Month full of sporting wins, here are the latest Google trends in women’s sports.

🎟️ Indiana Fever tickets were the top trending topic related to the WNBA Draft, while Caitlin Clark’s official Draft declaration in February made "who has the first pick in WNBA Draft" a breakout search in the U.S.

🔎 The Iowa Hawkeyes women’s basketball team was the top-searched March Madness squad in the U.S. and the most-searched team in several states beyond Iowa, including Alaska, Hawaii, Wyoming, Maine, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Clark also topped the list of players searched with the term “March Madness,” followed by Angel Reese and JuJu Watkins.

🏀 Iowa had three of the top five most-searched women’s March Madness matchups, but the top game was LSU—UCLA. The highly-anticipated matchup drew 3.8M viewers and was at the center of a Los Angeles Times divisive (and widely deemed sexist) op-ed. Milk and cookies…really?

📺 U.S. searches asking “where to watch NWSL” reached an all-time high, likely thanks to the league’s new media rights deal. The top NWSL clubs searched in relation were the KC Current, Seattle Reign FC, the Washington Spirit, Bay FC, and Angel City FC.

✨ Expansion teams Bay FC and Utah Royals FC saw high search interest surrounding their NWSL debuts. Both squads saw an increase in interest through multiple breakout searches, including “Bay FC logo,” “NWSL expansion teams,” and “Utah Royals home opener.”

🏟️ There’s profound, widespread interest in the KC Current, which opened the doors to its innovative CPKC Stadium this season. Indexed search interest in the team maxed out on Google Trends, and while searches for other NWSL clubs primarily remained regional, the Current saw search interest in nearly every U.S. state. Making waves.

3/2/2024 |  Young And Ready, Amirah Boyd Leads Caldwell Acrobatics & Tumbling (First and Pen)

Head coaches come in all shapes, sizes and colors, but rarely do they come as young as Amirah Boyd, 22, the new head coach of Acrobatics & Tumbling at Caldwell University in New Jersey.

Amirah’s path to Caldwell began in Georgia when her parents, who watched her “flipping all over the house,” enrolled her in gymnastics at the age of 3.

Over the next 10+ years, she flipped and jumped all the way to level 10 gymnastics, the highest level in the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympics program.

Unfortunately, she suffered a devastating injury in high school that derailed her plans to pursue college gymnastics.

“I could still do gymnastics, but I wasn’t the same athlete that I was before,” Coach Boyd told me when we spoke in January. 

Despite the injury, she was still being recruited by many DIII programs. She was also getting messages about acrobatics and tumbling, but she had no interest as athletics were the furthest thing from her mind. 

“‘I’m not doing this. I’m just going to graduate,'” she remembered saying to herself. “I wanted to move to the West Coast, do college there and have nothing to do with athletics.”

But then she received a message from Presbyterian College in South Carolina that changed the trajectory of her young life.

Presbyterian’s DI acrobatics and tumbling program piqued her interest. It was less than three hours away and one of her friends played soccer there, so she decided to check it out.

And that’s when thoughts of moving West ended.

“I fell in love immediately. I loved the coach, I loved the atmosphere, and I was actually part of the inaugural team there,” she told me. “I fell in love with the idea of being a part of something new.”

It wasn’t just a new location and environment. It was also a new challenge that rekindled her interest in sports.

She competed in acrobatics and tumbling for the next four years, and during her sophomore year, she developed the coaching bug, a rarity for young athletes still competing and still in school.

That was proof that age didn’t define or limit Amirah’s future or career path.

So she started to learn about coaching, including practice plans and putting groups together. And since her head coach lacked an assistant coach, Amirah filled that void.

When her senior year rolled around, she started looking for jobs. Some suggested she should look for assistant coaching positions but Amirah was determined to be a head coach despite the doubts about her age and experience.

That February, she applied to Caldwell University and had a whirlwind romance with the school.

“I interviewed, I want to say, like four days before I graduated. I kid you not,” she said. “I graduated May 13th, I saw the campus May 15th and they hired me a day later.”

A week later, her bags were packed and she was in New Jersey.

It was a surprising move to many in her circle, but doubts didn’t phase her. 

“It’s been the best thing,” she told me. “This is what I wanted to do. I had it on my heart then, so I decided to take it.”

But as the joy and excitement of achieving her goal subsided, the reality of her new situation surfaced. 

She was now running a program in only its second year of existence and she was a first-year head coach who had literally just graduated from college.

That meant she would be learning on the fly, recruiting and coaching athletes around her age and the sport was still relatively new. 

Believing that transitioning from gymnastics to acrobatics and tumbling is easy is similar to thinking that moving from boxing to MMA is easy.

While similarities exist, they are very different sports.

But instead of letting it overwhelm her, Amirah simplified things to make it easier for her, her team and the uninformed.

“There’s floor, but there’s no bar and there’s no vault. But you are tumbling,” she said. “If you’ve ever seen a cheer routine, they have baskets, pyramids, tumbling and stunts all in a two-minute and 30-second routine. You break up each specific section, and that’s one event in acro [acrobatics].”

But what about the coaching and business side of the sport? 

Again, not a problem.

She started with scheduling and focused on local events and local talent. She also kept a tight rein on expenses, which is a challenge for any new program. 

Amirah was able to sign 12 players, giving her 20 rostered athletes. By hitting the minimum of 18, the team was eligible for its first full season in terms of meets and events.

Last Saturday, February 24th, the team began the season in the best way possible with a 190.115-189.270 victory over Stevenson University. That was the first win in program history, a goal the first-year head coach told me in January that she wanted to accomplish.

“My biggest goal this year was to come in and have our first program win because they didn’t get to have that last year,” she told me.

So now that she has her first win, she’s focused on the remaining five events, which entail more prep, more coaching and more focus.

And that’s on top of her also being an assistant SID (Sports Information Director).

Amirah Boyd has the program off to a good start and has her eyes focused on everything from coaching and winning to recruiting and becoming an officially sanctioned NCAA sport.

But she has a vision and refuses to be deterred.

“If someone wants to do acro, I want them to say, ‘Oh, Caldwell University.'”

It’s an ambitious goal, but one I have no doubt she will achieve.

“Y’all better watch out for Caldwell,” she told me.

I believe her, and you should too.

2/29/2024 |  Howard’s Figure Skating Team Part of Olympic Sport Growth at HBCUs (Front Office Sports)

Over the weekend, Howard students became the first from a historically black college and university (HBCU) to compete in figure skating.

Team founders Maya James, Cheyenne Walker, and their teammates have contended about a lack of practice space, with the only ice area in Washington, D.C., under renovation. They get a private hour at a public outdoor facility and travel to the arena in College Park, Md.

“We didn’t really have that opportunity to get consistent ice time until this semester, and it’s only [been] one month,” Walker told NPR.

The team, a club not officially affiliated with the university’s athletic department, debuted in an intercollegiate competition at the University of Delaware, the alma mater of one of their coaches, Joel Savary, who also runs a nonprofit called Diversify Ice. James finished fifth of 11 skaters in the Juvenile Women Short Program, per Essence and the team’s Instagram account. The team also holds training sessions to teach other students how to skate.

“By embracing more diversity, we would be embracing more artistic styles and even music, such as performances to Beyoncé instead of traditional pieces like Swan Lake, the sport becomes more accessible and relevant to a broader audience. This cultural infusion not only enhances the spectator experience but also attracts new participants, ultimately contributing to the sport’s popularity and longevity,” Savary tells Front Office Sports over email. “By providing sponsorship, mentorship, networks, and opportunities for minorities in skating, Diversify Ice is actively working to dismantle systemic barriers and create a more inclusive and equitable sport.”

Howard’s figure skaters are one of several examples at HBCUs where starting or bringing back Olympic sports is gaining momentum.

Last year, Fisk University became the first HBCU gymnastics program to compete in an NCAA event, a journey that merited plans for a docuseries.

Tennessee State University will boast the first HBCU hockey team next winter, with plans to start a men’s team at the club level but eventually compete at the Division I level with both men’s and women’s programs.

Howard is also the only HBCU with a swim and dive team after dozens of programs shuttered over the years. The Bison graced the cover of Sports Illustrated last February, the first all-Black swim team to do so. Many schools are reportedly planning on establishing or bringing back their programs.

2/7/2024 |  The Players Fund founder highlights what women athletes bring to the table (Gist Sports, The)

The GIST: Fergus Bell, founder of the athlete-led venture capital firm The Players Fund (TPF), recently argued that women athletes can be more impactful than male sports stars. While Bell mentioned how this is influencing sports sponsorships and coverage, recent additions to TPF demonstrate how it’s also influencing the boardroom.

The Players Fund: The firm was launched last August by a global group of men’s cricketers and soccer players. Raising $50.9M at the outset, the fund allows athletes to have a say in its investment choices while also educating them on investing risks and rewards and helping them pave a financial future after retirement. 

  • The firm was entirely composed of male athletes until last December, when TPF addedseveral prominent women athletes as new partners, including retired legends such as Allyson Felix and Eni Aluko and active players like Nikita Parris.

The trend: While most women athletes are only starting to get paid, tennis stars specifically offer a window into the future as the pay gap closes. Top women’s tennis players have been bringing home the bacon for years thanks to equal Grand Slam prize money and lucrative sponsorships, which savvy players like Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka have leveraged into investment opportunities.

  • Williams is in a league of her own with Serena Ventures, the firm she started in 2014 that has invested in at least 64 companies, including popular startups like MasterClass, Tonal, and Olly. Over half of these companies are founded by women, while 76% have founders from historically underrepresented backgrounds. Making sure everyone has a seat at the table. 
  • Osaka has partnered with popular companiesthat align with her athletic lifestyle like BodyArmor and Sweetgreen, but she’s also stepped beyond the court. Osaka’s media company, Hana Kuma, launched in partnershipwith LeBron James’ SpringHill Productions.

Zooming out: Including women athletes doesn’t just bring in their money, but also their unique perspectives and expertise: Diversity leads tohigher revenue and better decision-making. As major women’s sports’ revenue is set to cross the billion-dollar threshold in 2024, the venture capital space should continue to recruit women athletes as investors.

10/11/2023 |  Happy International Day of the Girl (Gist Sports, The)

The first-ever IDOG was held on October 11th, 2012, when the United Nations (UN) declared the day to recognize the rights of, and challenges faced by girls around the world. IDOG is all about addressing the unique barriers girls encounter, while empowering them to change a world that stilllacks full gender equity.

And as we know, sports play a pivotal role in improving the lives of girls, with ripple effects that can benefit them well into adulthood.

While there’ve been significant strides in women’s sports recently, there’s still a long way to go to ensure girls can get in and stay in the game.

  • Just one in three girls aged six to 12 play sports regularly. And, by age 14, girls drop out of sports at a rate two times greater than boys.
  • In the U.S., high school boys have a whopping 1.3 million more sports opportunities than high school girls. Not okay.
  • And the lack of participation is a global issue: Nearly half of teenage girls in Australia quit sports by age 17, and a Canadian study found that if girls don’t play sports by the time they’re 10, there’s only a 10% chance they’ll be physically active adults.
  • Girls of color face even more barriers to access than their white counterparts, having to navigate disparities at the intersection of gender and race.

So what are those barriers? Along with having fewer opportunities, the stereotype that sports are “for boys” still infuriatingly persists. In a U.S. national survey, a third of parents said they believed that boys are inherently better at sports than girls. Absurd.

  • And while there are so many incredible pro female athletes, girls still lack female sports role models in their day-to-day experiences. Sixty-eight percent of youth players are coached by men, and very few parents encourage their daughters to follow sports figures.
  • What’s more, the cost of playing sports can be out of reach for many families. Budget cuts have also forced schools to adopt “pay-to-play” models which bar many athletes from competing.

It’s hard to overstate the benefits for girls who play sports. Most obviously, sports help girls’ physical health, not just during childhood, but throughout their lives. They have stronger immune systems and are at a lower risk of developing medical issues like heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and a myriad of cancers later in life.

  • But the mental health effects may be even more important. Young female athletes have higher self-esteem, lower levels of depression, and overall better body images.

Sports also help girls develop valuable lifelong skills, such as teamwork, leadership, and goal-setting abilities. They also learn how to take risks and be resilient when facing failure.

Also important for girls’ future success? Their education. Young female athletes are more likely to stay in school, get better grades, and pursue further education. And 61% of high school girlswith 4.0+ GPAs play sports.

  • Not only that, girls who get in the game are 14% more likely to believe they are smart enough for their dream career — it’s no wonder that 80% of Fortune 500 female execs played sports. Leveling the playing field and the C-suite.

As families consider the numerous benefits of sports participation, they also weigh certain risks that are specific to girls. Physically, girls and women are at higher risk of certain sports injuries, such as ACL tears, stress fractures, tendonitis, and concussions.

But more concerning are the risks to girls’ safety and wellbeing. In October 2022, U.S. Soccer released a devastating report on the systemic issue of verbal, emotional, and sexual abuses in the NWSL. Many players who were interviewed during the year-long investigation also described troubling incidents with youth coaches.

  • Reports like that, along with high-profile stories surrounding USA Gymnastics and the abuse hundreds of young girls suffered right under the organization’s nose, understandably give many parents and young athletes pause.

Plus, there’s been a massive movement in the U.S. to bar trans girls from participating in sports. Trans youth are already at greater risk of depression, anxiety, and death by suicide than their cis peers and, besides being horrifyingly discriminatory, these bans mean they miss out on the aforementioned benefits of play. Clearly, there’s still work to do.

Though progress is being made incrementally, much work can be done to ensure all girls have safe and inclusive access to sports.

  • One way to make it happen? Create more opportunities. And the state of California is doing just that: This 2023-2024 school year is the first full year that girls’ flag football is an official high school sport.

Another big way to attract and keep girls in sports? Representation. According to a 2022 survey, 30% of U.S. sports fans are watching more women’s sports now than five years ago — and the most common explanation is that it’s easier to find games on TV. Groundbreaking.

The sports world clearly has a long way to go to achieve gender equity. Empowering more girls on fields, courts, and pitches helps not just them, their families, and communities, but also lifts an industry that has significant impacts on society.

  • When we level the playing field for girls, we level it for everyone.


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