Women's sports leagues are banding together 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 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 fast-pitch softball game.''
All the league commissioners signed a pledge and filmed a public service announcement promoting the effort. Those ads were to start rolling out Tuesday.
"It's a social media campaign for now but will grow,'' Borders added. "This is only tier one.''
Brenda Andress, commissioner of the Canadian Women's Hockey League, came up with the idea for the initiative 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 in sports between the sexes. Tennis is one of the few sports where the women have some parity — all four Grand Slam events pay both 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 can point to a Seattle group already using the multisport format. Force 10 Sports Management owns and operates the WNBA's Seattle Storm. The group also runs the Seattle Reign of the National Women's Soccer League and the Seawolves of Major League Rugby. There is cross-promotion among the sports.
"Seattle is absolutely the model,'' Borders said. "They were doing that before SheIS is born.''
The city has 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 figures from across sports 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 percent 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.''
The other leagues that already joined are Women's Pro Lacrosse, Canada Basketball, Rugby Canada and the National Women's Hockey League. Andress expects other sports like soccer, gymnastics, swimming, cycling and running to join soon, too. Through the initiative, the leagues also aim to help increase young girls' participation in sports.
"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.''
The initiative also has support from the WWE. Stephanie McMahon, the chief brand officer of the company, signed the pledge.
"We need to encourage audiences to watch and attend games and live events, and young girls to stay in sports,'' she said. "Girls need to see themselves across sports, entertainment and business, and it's going to take all of us to show the world that SheIS anything she wants to be.''