14 Aug Athletes Alex Morgan, Chloe Kim, Simone Manuel, and Sue Bird are creating the next great media brand
Flau’jae Johnson is a national high school basketball star, that also just happens to be making a big name for herself as a rapper, appearing on America’s Got Talent in 2018, and signing a deal with the Roc Nation-owned Equity Distribution. As her star has risen over the past few years—she’s set to play for Louisiana State University this fall—there have been a collection of news stories and TV profiles about her, but only one media outlet was given full access to the inside story of her journey as it’s been happening.
In June, Togethxr—a women’s-focused media platform launched by superstar athletes Alex Morgan, Chloe Kim, Simone Manuel, and Sue Bird in March 2021—dropped a five-episode docuseries on Johnson as part of its ongoing series on up-and-coming talents called Fenom. For Morgan, it’s also the type of content that perfectly embodies Togethxr’s ambition to stylishly straddle sports and culture from a women’s perspective. “It’s an incredible story,” Morgan says. “These are things most people wouldn’t otherwise see or hear if not for Togethxr and the partnerships we’ve been able to make.”
Togethxr is the latest media brand that has launched and quickly built a passionate fan community based on a strong, unique perspective, as well as social-forward content that spans social platforms, short-form video, photo essays, and podcasts. Togethxr is like the empowerment lens of LeBron’s SpringHill Company, mixed with the POV of Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, tied to four legendary athletes across a diverse array of sports. It’s built a loyal following across social platforms, including more than 1.8 million TikTok followers, and the overall result so far has been a sports and culture media brand unlike any the culture has ever seen. “In life we try to stay away from cliches, but sometimes it just fits: This is like lightning in a bottle,” says Bird. “It happened so naturally. The engagement we’ve seen on social media is wild. It’s not just followers, it’s the actual engagement. People are connected to this brand.”
Cofounder and chief content officer Jessica Robertson says that a central tenet of Togethxr is the recognition that women’s sports is ground zero for every single -ism that’s in culture, and so the content and voice of the brand has been built around that. “Which means this is a brand that is going to touch issues of race, gender, sexuality, human rights, voting rights, and so much more,” says Robertson, who previously helmed The Players Tribune. “There is no neutral right now, from a storytelling perspective, when it comes to issues in women’s sports. For us, the edges of our brand became sharper over time because the world started to change, and brands have to show up right now. Women’s sports and female athletes have been so far ahead of culture that culture has to catch up with these women, and a brand like ours isn’t waiting for that. Our hope is that we’re the tip of the spear in speeding that up.”
Togethxr first started as an idea Morgan had been mulling over for years. As she traveled the country and the world with the U.S. women’s national soccer team, the screaming fans and skyrocketing TV ratings simply weren’t reflected in the overall media coverage. “It was so glaring,” says Morgan, “and it’s not that our stories are any less important or interesting, but women and female athletes were just drastically under-covered. Togethxr started as an idea that has now transformed into this incredible company over the past three years.”
The concept that would eventually become Togethxr first began to formalize in late 2019, as Morgan began gathering funding and partners to make it happen. For legendary basketball pro Bird, the decision to get involved was easy. As a veteran pro athlete and Olympian, for most of her career Bird has been told there wasn’t a market for women’s sports, or content around women athletes. After a while, it starts to seep in. “When people tell you for so long that you’re not worth as much, sadly, you start to internalize it,” says Bird. “You don’t believe it, but you internalize it.”
The passionate community Togethxr has built over a short period of time illustrates a pent-up appetite for these stories that weren’t previously being told. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, women’s sports only receive about 4% of all sports media coverage. “It’s so refreshing and therapeutic for me to see this response, and finding out that I haven’t been crazy all of these years in thinking there is a market for us,” says Bird. “Now we’re seeing all of these people, and they’re not coming out of the woodwork; they’ve always been there, they just didn’t have a brand or company that spoke to them like this does.”
Summer of Gold is HERE. Re-live the 1996 Summer Olympics through the eyes of the iconic female athletes who changed the game for women sports ????
— TOGETHXR (@togethxr) August 17, 2021
Backed by private equity firm Magnet Companies, Togethxr’s business model revolves around licensing deals for original content, merchandise, and brand partnerships. Togethxr’s partners are an impressive list of such major brands as Nike, Buick, Geico, Porsche, AT&T, Google, Coca-Cola, among others. Obviously, between Kim, Manuel, Morgan, and Bird, the founders have many corporate sponsor connections, but these brands also see the value in tying themselves to a unique media property with a passionate audience. This hasn’t always been the case. As Bird recalls over the course of her career, whenever there was a conversation with a major brand, no matter how popular the athlete was—and to be clear, Sue Bird is a superstar—there was always a looooong pause.
“To be dramatic about it, pick a major male athlete—LeBron or Tom Brady—when they walk in the room, people are already saying, ‘Yup!’” says Bird. “For women and female athletes, there’s always this moment of, ‘Ahhhh, would it sell? Ahhh, do people want to see this?’ There’s always this hesitancy. What I will say is, even in the last year, that hesitation is getting shorter and shorter. I think people are now coming at it from a place of yes, rather than a place of no.”
She just launched a Nike x Togethxr collaboration.
The farewell tee for @S10Bird‘s final tour.
— TOGETHXR (@togethxr) August 9, 2022
This is what the founders of Togethxr aimed to do: use their collective star power and fanbase as the foundation for something else. A little more than a year later, that something else has taken on a life of its own, challenging traditional attitudes towards the potential of sports and culture storytelling.
“We’re going to center, inspire, and uplift those voices that have intentionally been left in the margins for so long,” says Robertson. “There’s a massive audience there, they’ve been so underserved, and we’re going to build this massive community that is undeniable, and then brand partners are going to show up and not be able to ignore it. Then they’re going to invest. All of that will help brands in our space—not just us—continue to build this space. We’re going to break the cycle. That’s the whole point.”
Source: Fast Company