You think of sports fans and the image of frat boys, drinking beer, pounding fists and painting their faces in team colors is likely what's popped into your head in the past. But now, the rise of the female sports fan is fierce and just getting stronger.
A major force is Tracy Sandler, founder and CEO of Fangirl Sports Network, a site bringing together women who share their knowledge and passion for all things sports. Tracy explains how she made a thriving business out of her passion and why it's so important that women aren't intimidated of breaking into fields that have traditionally been male dominated!
Where did your love of sports begin?
I grew up with two brothers and a father who loved sports, so I've been watching and enjoying sports since I was a little girl. My first big memory was being at the opening 1988 World Series game when Kirk Gibson came up to bat in the bottom of the 9th inning and pinch-hit a game-winning home run. He had been injured and I don't think anyone even expected him to get on base.
"It was truly one of the most amazing sports moments I have ever experienced. I get chills just thinking about it!"
What were you doing prior to founding Fangirl Sports Network?
Before launching Fangirl Sports Network, I worked at a political and philanthropic donor-advising firm. I have a background in politics as well, having been a Cabinet member in the Adrian Fenty administration when he was the Mayor of Washington, DC.
How did the idea for Fangirl Sports Network come about?
Well, I wrote for the sports section of The Michigan Daily while in college and worked at FOX Sports during and after my college years. After that, I started a blog for fun called The Trials and Tribulations of My Love/Hate Relationship with the San Francisco 49ers. I was writing about the team regularly and discovered how much I loved getting back into my sports roots. From Trials and Tribulations, I rebranded as “49ers Fangirl" and started creating weekly videos and a podcast, in addition to blog posts covering games and in-depth features on the players.
When did Fangirl Sports Network really start to become a reality?
During the 2015 NFL season, which was the first for “49ers Fangirl," I thought it would be awesome if there was a Fangirl for every team in every professional sport. This would be a woman who was not only knowledgeable, passionate, and funny, but also someone who loved the more “girly" side of sports – recipes, looking and feeling good at the game, workouts that could be done during halftime, etc. And from there, Fangirl Sports Network was born.
I decided to expand with an additional NFL team during the 2016 season, and brought on the “Rams Fangirl" to cover the Los Angeles Rams. Last month we expanded into the NBA with the launched of the “Los Angeles Clippers Fangirl" and “Golden State Warriors Fangirl."
Talk about starting a business for females in a male dominated industry—what has your experience been like?
The thing about being a woman in this industry is that you can't make mistakes when it comes to your knowledge. It's absolutely crucial for me to be as knowledgeable and prepared as possible for every video, podcast, blog post, television appearance, etc. When it comes to any disrespectful comments from men in person or on social media, I do my best to let it roll off my back and ignore them. So, my best compliments are when people ask me when they're going to have a Fangirl for their team, because they love the content and what we are doing
Explain your vision for Fangirl Sports Network—where do you want to see it a year from now?
A year from now, I'd like to have several NFL Fangirls, NBA Fangirls and at least a couple MLB Fangirls. But in the next three to five years, I would like to have a Fangirl for every team in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.
Talk about your staff—what kind of leader are you?
I'm lucky to work with an amazing group of people who are motivated, organized, and efficient! My team is so diligent and work tirelessly to make sure everything is done on time and done the right way. Since I am not only the founder but a Fangirl myself, I tend to lead by example. My team watches me put in countless hours, not to mention my heart and soul, into Fangirl Sports Network, and they follow in suit. When building my company, I look for people who are self-motivated and excited about what we're doing at FGSN. It's not always easy for someone to commit when you need to be available nights and weekends due to game schedules, but I have a great group of people who understand the situation and love it!
Who's your mentor?
My dad is absolutely my mentor. He is probably the hardest working person I know and when he commits, he's all in. He is loyal, smart, patient, and an amazing leader. He is also the most supportive person on the planet and I know he is always in my corner.
What is your best advice for other entrepreneurs out there?
It's important to remember that we all have strengths and we all have weaknesses, and that's okay! Surround yourself with people who know the things you don't and learn from them. It's difficult not to feel protective of a new business, but it's important to listen to the people who have been there and who may know better. Constructive criticism only makes your business stronger. However, don't let negative thoughts or comments shake your confidence. Listen, evaluate, and then decide what is right for you and your business.
What do you want other women in business to learn from you?
Don't allow negativity to get you down. People make comments to and about women that men don't have to deal with. It can be frustrating, hurtful, and even degrading, but remember, that's on those people. Keep your head up, keep working hard, and do your thing.
What's been the best and even life changing experiences since starting the business?
I've been a die-hard San Francisco 49ers fan since I was a little girl. To now be in a place where I have the respect and credibility to be in the press box during games, attending practices, interviewing players in the locker room, and having access to the field is a dream come true. Sometimes I literally pinch myself because I can't believe this is my life. The best sporting event I've attended was this past Super Bowl game in Houston. It was the best Super Bowl game that has ever—and will ever—be played, and to be in that stadium experiencing a part of history was absolutely incredible.
What is it really like to have a passion become your career?
My love of sports has always been my outlet. I've been incredibly lucky to attend some phenomenal sporting events over the years. But that is now also my job and frankly, that makes it even cooler! My office is the stadium, and I wouldn't want it any other way. Having this passion makes my every day exciting and interesting. Don't get me wrong, this business requires A LOT of work, but every time I walk into that Levi's Stadium press box, I can't help but think I'm the luckiest girl in the world.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.