Ashley Hart of She Plays discusses bringing a community of people together by a free-to-play fantasy sports platform catering towards women’s leagues.
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Show notes from Ashley Hart Interview
Ryan Knuppel: All right, welcome back to another episode of The Knup Sports Show. I’m your host, Ryan Knuppel here with you each and every time. Thanks so much for taking a little time out of your day. This podcast is growing and we are having a lot of fun with it. We’re getting a lot of great feedback. So we do appreciate you. All your input and your time with us here today. We have another very special guest with us today. Today, I have my friend and co-Orlando resident Ashley Hart, CEO and founder at She Plays. Ashley, thanks for joining me.
Ashley Hart: Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Ryan Knuppel: Hey, it’s my pleasure. We met back, was it six months ago, nine months ago that we actually met? I don’t know, before COVID when we could actually meet we actually met up. Ashley’s doing some cool things in the fantasy sports area. I’m excited to bring her on the show and just talk a little bit about what she’s doing. Ashley, how are you holding up through this COVID time?
Ashley Hart: Yeah, it’s been interesting. You mentioned Orlando, and I’ve sadly had to come a little further north for the time being, so I miss our community. I miss going to soccer games and everything. It’s been strange, but I’m getting to see family more than I ever have, and so trying to find the positives, which are sometimes hard, but trying to find them.
Ryan Knuppel: I think you have to. We have to go through these times. 2020 can be kind of looked at as like a negative year, just seems like one thing after another keeps happening this year. And you are right, we try to find the positives. And I think that’s the sign of any good business person, find the positives and move on and adjust from there.
Ashley Hart: Yeah, you mentioned business. And that’s why it’s such a strange thing to say, I wouldn’t wish this on us again, ever again. But the business side has seen a lot of opportunity and a lot of growth, which was unexpected, and being able to adjust quickly to what was happening. I just feel like every person I talk with in the sports industry, at least on our side of it, has seen this crazy amount of attention, get put on them.
Ryan Knuppel: So, talk a little bit about your side of this. She Plays give us the 1000 foot view of She Plays and what it is and maybe why it came about.
Ashley Hart: Yeah, thanks so much again, for the opportunity. She Plays is a way for fans to engage with their favorite women’s sports leagues. We do that through fantasy sports, we’re bringing those to the industry really for the first time and having unique games, but we also have podcasts and we have a community that we’re building. Really trying to bring fans of soccer together with fans of basketball and all be in one place because there hasn’t really been. Being a sports fan myself, I’m a fan of the NWSL, WNBA, NPF there hasn’t been a place for us to all gather together before. So that’s what we’re building and bringing to women’s sports.
Ryan Knuppel: That’s really cool, everybody says you got to find your niche, right, find your niche in the large area that you’re diving into, which is fantasy sports, or just sports, social sports area, you know, and so, you finding your niche, really talking to the female audience is pretty cool. Where did that come about? Was it simply, you saw a need that there wasn’t something out here in this? You’ve been a sports person all your life, what got you into this field?
Ashley Hart: I definitely played sports all growing up, and intramurals and stuff like that in college. But just being a fan, I was transitioning away from a job in the nonprofit sector and really had the privilege to sit and think, Okay, what do I want to do next? And just kind of came back to sports and like, could I try my hand in sports, and it was 2018. We’ve been having the debate about equal pay for the US women’s soccer team. And I was trying to find the Orlando Pride. I was up in North Carolina, but trying to find the Orlando Pride game. And it was so hard to find, like Marta plays on this team, Alex Morgan plays on this team, like, why is this still so hard to come by in 2018? And so it just kind of started this thought process of Okay, what’s not there in the woman’s world that’s working and helping
men’s leagues grow? And, all the arguments against equal pay that are being made? Is there a way, just shut those down? Can we infuse something into this that would take all of those arguments away that people have and it just came down to there really are no fantasy sports for women’s leagues, and I’ve been playing fantasy sports. I grew up in Winston Salem, North Carolina tobacco road. We didn’t have school when the ACC tournament was happening. We watched basketball in class, it’s been ingrained in me. Just kind of started to figure out, can we do this? Can we bring this to women’s sports, we’ve seen what it’s done to NFL, we’ve seen what’s done to MLB. Why not? If women are 40% of the athletes in this country yet only get 4% of the sports media attention, and if this is one way to help that number grow, that’s going to help sponsorships grow, that’s going to help trickle down to a better salary, better conditions, better everything for these incredible athletes and the best leagues in the world.
Ryan Knuppel: Amazing. So, let’s talk a little bit about the platform. Because when we think of fantasy sports, obviously, we’re thinking of the FanDuel’s, DraftKings and Monkey Knife Fights and some of these monsters in the space. So tell us a little bit about She Plays platform and how it either is similar or different to some of these that we know and love.
Ashley Hart: Yeah, so we do have a free platform, it’s free to play, we don’t have a pay to play right now our DFS is this typically what it’s known as now, no sports betting, but really trying to just have zero barrier to entry. A lot of sports fans in the women’s side have never played fantasy sports, because again, it hasn’t been there. So really trying to let them come on, test it out, see what we’re doing for the fans that have been playing and other leagues. Come check out these athletes and like start to learn their name, see what they can do. But it’s been really neat. We actually were working with a software company last year, because of COVID, we’re able to step back and make a change and really try to bring things in house, which has been exciting and really brought on some game like just unique games, things that we can create up in one day and build and put out the next. It’s gotten a little bit of a different flair to your traditional, pick a roster games, we have those, but also trying to bring in more of the stats and like a little bit of the nerdiness that comes with fantasy sports.
Ryan Knuppel: Amazing. So one question I have. So, She Plays brand and the name obviously is tailored towards the women’s sports leagues, right? So the question I have is your audience, your players? Is it dedicated to all female players? Or you having male and female players playing the sports that are dedicated to the female sports? Does that make sense?
Ashley Hart: It does. And thank you for asking. Because I do feel like I want to make sure everyone knows that anyone can come play on our site, and we want anyone to come play on our site, we know that 84% of sports fans, as a whole in this country do support women’s sports. They do want to see them grow. I will say that when we started, we just had soccer, and that was a little bit more predominantly female. But bringing in WNBA games throughout the summer, we’ve really seen that gender gap shrink to almost 50/50. So it’s been really exciting to see how we are bringing in anyone and everyone and again, so like from NWSL, we’ve had people from all over the world playing our games, which is really fun. And some of them are saying like, we’re the only site that they can come do that on. But we’ve seen a lot of soccer people say okay, soccer is over for the Challenge Cup. Well, I’ve never watched basketball, but they’ve got games. So let’s stick around and start playing. And so we’ve actually seen like that conversion already, which is the point. It’s been really neat to see gender wise, you know, almost half and half. But then also this sport affinity, like, people are coming, for whatever reason for whatever their first love is, but then finding different sports to get into.
Ryan Knuppel: Amazing. Let’s touch a little bit on the entrepreneurial side, because obviously, being an entrepreneur myself and running a small business, it’s not always rosy. It’s not always easy, right? There’s so many challenges. And I’d like to just tap into your brain about some of the challenges you’ve run across as a small business owner in the fantasy sports space and maybe touch on a few of those that you’ve run across and who knows, maybe somebody listening would be able to help out with something you have going on. You never know when you get in these types of platforms. And you start talking business you just never know who’s listening. So, what kind of challenges have you seen from an entrepreneurial side with this?
Ashley Hart: Great question. I do think that myself not being in the tech space. I am not a developer. I’ve learned a bunch in the last two years of having She Plays, but it’s still not my forte. And that’s a little daunting to come in and say I want to build fantasy sports. It really is finding people that you trust and building out that team, which takes time. I feel like we’re on the right path to get ourselves set up to grow. The one thing that I think has been shocking, and unique to anyone trying to do something in the women’s sports side is just the lack of investment that we are working with. There are very few stats companies that do anything for statistics for women’s sports, which in the fantasy sports world, we know is crucial. It’s almost like we have to build two steps to even have our foot in the door. But thankfully, we’re willing and other people, particularly women are in or are willing to do the work and come in and, and certainly there are people that we have discussions with, they’re like, yes, we want to be a part of this, like, we’ve been waiting for someone to come do this. And so we have a bunch of people with excitement in the space, but it’s just like, Oh, this isn’t here, we have to build this so that we can really build what we’re wanting to bring to the space. So that’s been a little, like I said, it was shocking, honestly, I mean, WNBA has been around for twenty years, and NPF been around for about that long. Why has there been so little attention? You could, you know, fill in your own answer there. But the times come to change and really, like start investing, it’s wise to invest in women. That’s kind of what we’re hoping to prove and show.
Ryan Knuppel: That’s really cool. Being in this industry, but then having a cause as well. And clearly your cause is to raise awareness around these leagues that are being played. So that’s amazing. What’s up and coming? What’s the future look like for She Plays? Do you guys have anything big that you’re doing around the platform and around your social community and everything? What’s new, what’s coming from you guys?
Ashley Hart: Yes, we’re really excited. Because this week, we are launching a brand new podcast. It is called Sports Break. It came out of COVID of missing my game day family. All the traditions that come with being in your community. Going to a game. I just missed, there’s so much happening in life, I just miss sitting down, talking about what’s going on in the sports world. We’re having conversations with successful people in all different avenues. Our first guest is Stephanie Allen, she’s an actress out in LA, and we chat about her Rec Basketball League that she started out in LA, it’s unreal what they’re doing. This thread that ties us all together this love for something greater than ourselves, and that can really unite the community, unite people and be a break in the day. We’re rolling it out this week. Sports Break, and we’re really excited. As we’re transitioning away from live sports, we’ll have golf and tennis happening. Surfing will start in November. WMBA and WSL will end this month, we’re really going to be able to, on the back end really, dive in and start building things out and hopefully have a big launch for hockey in January.
Ryan Knuppel: That’s cool. That’s going to be fun. You don’t have to convince me to listen to a podcast, I love podcasting. It’s a great platform. I wish you the best of luck with that, we’ll make sure to put the link to that in the show notes here. If we can support that in any way, just let us know. But that’s amazing. Another question I just had, it just came up. So what’s your take on eSports? And women in eSports? Specifically, we hear a lot about eSports growing. We know it’s a big area. Is that something that you’re hoping to bring into what you’re doing here?
Ashley Hart: Yes, it’s funny because we’re actually going to interview a big-time player for the new podcast, hopefully in the next month. That was something that I was not familiar with a few years ago. It’s been just really cool to dig into, down in Orlando, they’ve got an arena that they built all for eSports and MLS has brought on an Esports component. So I definitely think that it is extremely popular and just a unique offering. Allie Long who plays on the US women’s soccer team in Portland, no she’s now on OL Reign. But she over the break started playing World of Warcraft or something, I don’t know but set up a twitch channel for herself. And it just kind of really took off like people were just like, Hey, you know, I want to watch you play this game. I think it’s definitely something that we are trying to brainstorm and see what we can do. I think it is a unique audience and one that’s very loyal. So I think it’s definitely one of the avenues that’s rising, and probably that in sports betting are probably the two hottest trends on that side of the sports industry.
Ryan Knuppel: Plans to get into the sports betting industry? That’s another question for you. Is it, something that She Plays has on their long term game plan or not really a space that you want to jump into?
Ashley Hart: Yeah, I would say not so much right now. I go back and forth on that. To know what we have to do on our side to keep things within the regulations. And we’re even DFS, but I mean, DFS itself has so many regulations tied to it. I think that there’s a lack, it should be a part of that. Women sports should definitely be all up in there. It was crazy. The first time ever soccer in the NWSL had odds in Vegas this year, first time in nine years. Someone’s definitely missing the boat there.
Ryan Knuppel: I won’t keep you much longer, I really just appreciate all the time you’re giving us here. We try to keep these 20 minutes so we don’t go too overboard with it. Any last words for the audience, anything you want to say to anyone or need from anyone that’s listening here today.
Ashley Hart: Thanks so much for having me on, I really appreciate it. And I just love getting to come chat about anything and the opportunity to tell, we’re definitely in a funding round. So we definitely are looking for partners who are tied to the same mission we are of giving women their due certainly would love any connections there. Anyone in the space that I just feel like we’re bringing something unique to the table and something that, you know, we’ve seen proven over the last few months, and a few years that sponsors on board, it’s a loyal audience. So we really, would love partners to bring this to life and to bring this into the space and hopefully by 2021 we’ll be able to all be back together again. And we’ll resume our watch parties. We love having our watch parties in Orlando and but yeah, just thanks again for the time and anyone who loves sports and wants to chat about them, hit me up with my email.
Ryan Knuppel: Tell us a good way to get a hold of you or take a more look at She Plays. Give us some links that we can put in the show notes that might be good for people.
Ashley Hart: She-Plays.com is our website we’re @ShePlaysPro on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. We will be putting our new podcast up on YouTube as well. So definitely check that out. You can email me Ashley@she-plays.com, I’d love to chat. This is one of the best parts of doing this and being in this industry is just the connections you make. So Ryan, I am really grateful to be on.
Ryan Knuppel: Absolutely anytime Ashley and that was Ashley Hart, the co-founder of She Plays. Thank you for your time Ashley and listeners. Thank you so much for tuning in. Hopefully you got a little something out of that and Ashley’s a great person. So, if you need anything, get a hold of her or if you need anything for me as well let me know. Thank you all for listening. Stay safe. Ashley Take care and have a great day.
Ashley Hart: You too. Thanks so much.
Ryan Knuppel: Bye-bye, everybody.
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