It wasn’t particularly surprising when the Seattle Storm confirmed on Monday that Sue Bird – an unrestricted free agent – would return for her 18th season with the franchise. After all, Bird has helped the team claim four WNBA titles during her nearly two-decade career in Seattle.
Still, Bird envisions a future in which a career like hers is discussed differently in media coverage.
“You rarely see the talking heads having a debate about whether Sue Bird should have stayed in Seattle for her career,” she joked in an interview last week.
That is part of the reason Bird, 40, decided to join Alex Morgan, Simone Manuel, and Chloe Kim as one of the founders of TOGETHXR, a media and commerce company that launched today. The endeavor is operated and funded by Magnet Companies, a private equity-backed holding company.
“When I was growing up, there was nothing like this,” Bird explained. “Of all of the founders, I’m definitely the closest to the end [of my career]. When I think about legacy and what I’m leaving behind, I think this is an amazing way to keep pushing and telling stories and hopefully change the [media coverage] landscape.”
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Morgan says she first had the idea to start TOGETHXR back in 2015, around the time the U.S. women’s soccer team won its third World Cup title.
“At the end of the day, there is definitely different coverage of men’s and women’s sports,” Morgan – who has won two World Cup titles – explained last week. “I didn’t necessarily feel like girls and women were equally represented.”
That feeling is more than backed up by data. In the most recent study of its kind, researchers found that coverage of women’s sports on televised news and highlights shows had declined over a 25-year period (1989-2014) with women’s sports receiving only 3.2% of coverage in 2014.
“That is insanely low considering how many women play sports,” Bird says. “[It’s as if] we’re a box to check. Like, ‘We have an hour-long show, let’s give a minute to the women. Check!’ There hasn’t been real thought behind how to cover [women’s sports].”
The inequality in coverage has played a role in how male and female athletes earn a living. While Morgan was the only non-tennis player to crack the top 10 of Forbes‘ 2020 list of highest-paid female athletes, Forbes estimates that Morgan’s endorsement portfolio earned her ten times as much as her roughly $400,000 on-field salary and bonus last year.
“I have definitely had to go outside of soccer to [create] the financial stability that maybe a male athlete would get by just [playing] their sport,” Morgan explained last week. “Female athletes are required to do more, to be more, to do everything, and yet nothing at all. [We have to] use our platform, but be nice and quiet. That is something that I am challenging with TOGETHXR.”
In recent weeks, there have been several notable examples of female athletes supporting other female athletes, from tennis star Naomi Osaka becoming a co-owner of the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage to Renee Montgomery becoming a co-owner of her former WNBA team, the Atlanta Dream.
Bird hopes TOGETHXR becomes another example of female athletes claiming a seat at the table.
“Naomi and Renee [now] have a seat at the table,” she says. “Now, do we need more seats at the table? Absolutely. But having women in the room, in those conversations about how we’re going to cover women in sport is really important. We know what happens when that room isn’t diverse, when there isn’t a woman [in that room]. And we’re starting to see that having that diverse room can lead to some great things and some important change.”
While the four founders are best known for their athletic accomplishments – combined they have eight Olympic gold medals – TOGETHXR isn’t just about sports. “We also want to dive into how sport, culture, lifestyle, and fashion are all intertwined,” Morgan explains.
New content will be released daily on TOGETHXR’s social channels, including an upcoming docuseries called Fenom about 17-year-old national boxing champion Chantel “Chicanita” Navarro.
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