Flau’jae Johnson is a national high school basketball star who also happens to be making a big name for himself as a rapper, appearing on America has talent in 2018, signing a deal with Roc Nation-owned Equity Distribution. As her star has risen in recent years — she’ll play for Louisiana State University this fall — there’s been a flurry of news stories and TV profiles about her, but only one media outlet got full access to the inside story of her journey as it has took place.
In June, Togethxr — a female-focused media platform launched by superstar athletes Alex Morgan, Chloe Kim, Simone Manuel and Sue Bird in March 2021 — dropped a five-episode docuseries about Johnson as part of its ongoing series on up-and-coming talent called Phenomenon. For Morgan, it’s also the kind of content that perfectly embodies Togethxr’s ambition to stylishly transcend sports and culture from a female perspective. “It’s an incredible story,” says Morgan. “These are things most people wouldn’t otherwise see or hear if not for Togethxr and the partnerships we’ve been able to create.”
Togethxr is the latest media brand to launch and quickly build a passionate fan community based on a strong, unique perspective, as well as socially advanced content that spans social platforms, short-form videos, 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, linked to four legendary athletes across a multitude of sports. It has 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 cultural media brand unlike anything the culture has ever seen. “In life, we try to stay away from clichés, but sometimes it just fits: This is like lightning in a bottle,” says Bird. – It happened so naturally. The engagement we have seen on social media is wild. It’s not just followers, it’s engagement itself. People relate to this brand.”
Co-founder and content manager Jessica Robertson says that a central tenet of Togethxr is the recognition that women’s sport is ground zero for every single -ism that is in the culture, and therefore the content and voice of the brand is built around it. “That means this is a brand that’s going to touch on issues of race, gender, sexuality, human rights, voting rights and so much more,” says Robertson, who previously led Players Tribune. “There is no neutral right now, from a narrative perspective, when it comes to issues in women’s sports. For us, the edges of the brand got sharper over time because the world started to change, and the brands have to emerge right now. Women’s sports and female athletes have been so far ahead of the culture that the culture has to catch up with these women, and a brand like ours isn’t waiting for that. Our hope is that we are the tip of the spear in accelerating that.”
Togethxr first started as an idea Morgan had been mulling over for years. As she traveled the country and the world with the US Women’s National Soccer Team, the screaming fans and sky-high TV ratings were simply not reflected in the general 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 underrepresented. Togethxr started as an idea that has now morphed into this incredible company in during the past three years.”
The concept that would eventually become Togethxr only began to formalize in late 2019, when Morgan began gathering funding and partners to make it happen. For legendary basketball pro Bird, the decision to get involved was easy. As a professional athlete and Olympic veteran, Bird has been told for most of her career that there was no market for women’s sports, or content around female athletes. After a while it starts to seep in. “Unfortunately, when people tell you for so long that you’re not worth as much, you start to internalize that,” 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 previously untold stories. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, women’s sports only receive around 4% of all sports media coverage. “It’s so refreshing and therapeutic for me to see this response, and to find that I haven’t been crazy all these years thinking there’s a market for us,” says Bird. “Now we see all these people, and they don’t come out of the woodwork; they’ve always been there, they just didn’t have a brand or a company that spoke to them the way this does.”
Summer of Gold is HERE. Relive the 1996 Summer Olympics through the eyes of the iconic female athletes who changed the game for women’s sports ????
Episode 1⃣: https://t.co/WVlMSBZFtp pic.twitter.com/Q2qUTWikEk
— TOGETHXR (@togethxr) 17 August 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 a lot of sponsorship connections, but these brands also see the value in connecting to a unique media property with a passionate audience. This has not always been the case. As Bird recalls during her career, whenever there was a call with a major label, no matter how popular the athlete was—and to be clear, Sue Bird is a superstar—there was always a loooong break.
“To be dramatic about it, pick a great male athlete — LeBron or Tom Brady — when they walk in the room, people are already saying, ‘Yes!'” says Bird. “For women and female athletes, there’s always this moment: ‘Ahhhh, would it sell? Ahhh, will people see this? There’s always this hesitation. What I will say is, even in the last year, the 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 t-shirt for @S10Birdhis last trip.
— TOGETHXR (@togethxr) 9 August 2022
This is what the founders of Togethxr aimed to do: use their collective star power and fan base 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 to the potential of sports and cultural storytelling.
“We’re going to center, inspire and elevate those voices that have been willfully marginalized for so long,” says Robertson. “There’s a massive audience there, they’ve been so underserved, and we’re going to build this huge community that’s undeniable, and then brand partners will show up and not be able to ignore it. Then they’re going to invest. Everything this 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.”