LeadershipBroadsheetDiversity and InclusionCareersVenture Capital

Sports betting startup Gaming Society just raised funding in a bid to get more women to bet—on women

April 6, 2022, 9:00 PM UTC

Inclusion has been a hot topic in the sports world. But in the sports betting world? Not so much.

“As a woman in the industry for 20+ years, I knew a lot about sports, but very little about betting,” says Jaymee Messler, cofounder and CEO of Gaming Society, a company that aims to provide education and access to sports betting to all sports fans.

Messler does know a lot about sports—she was also cofounder of The Players Tribune, a media company that publishes stories from athletes’ perspectives, which she started with New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter back in 2014. Over the last couple of years, she became convinced that sports betting would be the next big thing in the sports industry. But she also saw that huge swaths of sports spectators were being left out of this booming trend. (While nearly half of sports fans are women, less than one-third of sports bettors are female, according to numbers from the American Gaming Association.)

So Messler got to work on a new company: Gaming Society, which uses how-to videos, newsletters, and contests to inform “underserved fan audiences” about sports betting. On Tuesday, her startup, Gaming Society, announced it has raised a seed round of financing. The 10-person, Los Angeles-based company closed a $3.5 million round from investors including Acies Investments and TLI Bedrock. Messler says she will use the new funding to make new hires, expand product offerings, and bring on more athlete partners.  

She’s already got one: This time around, Messler’s cofounder is none other than NBA Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett, who also came into the sector with decades of sports experience but not much familiarity with sports betting.

“From an athlete’s perspective, it was no man’s land, it’s been forbidden,” Garnett says, when asked what he thought of sports betting as a professional basketball player. “Now that I have been on the inside of it and can see what it can do to make sports more exciting, it’s clear how it can actually help the growth of sports that are underrepresented, especially women’s sports.”

Indeed, Gaming Society is not just trying to get more women excited about sports betting—the company is also trying to get more bettors (male or female) excited about betting on women’s sports. To that end, the startup has launched an aptly-named campaign called “Bet on Women,” which aims to raise awareness of opportunities to wager on women’s sports, and provides women’s sports teams and leagues with the infrastructure and guidance needed to get into the sports betting game, creating more such opportunities.

“It was yet another industry that’s making money off the athletes, where the athletes can’t participate,” says Marissa Coleman, Gaming Society’s VP of business development and a former WNBA player, referring to the not-so-long-ago early days of sports betting.

To be sure, there are all sorts of reasons why active, professional athletes can’t participate directly in sports betting. (Kind of like why executives aren’t supposed to buy or sell their company’s shares based on insider information.) But Coleman, who now heads up the Bet on Women campaign for Gaming Society, says there are also lots of ways athletes can benefit from all of the money pouring into the industry, without being compromised. Case in point: The WNBA Players Association and their licensing partners, OneTeam Partners and KB2 Sports, has joined forces with Gaming Society to boost engagement with women’s sports through sports betting deals. Gaming Society says there are different ways revenue can trickle down to the players. For example, if a brand sponsors a Bet on Women campaign, the players association could get a cut.

Gaming Society is not the only sports betting player that sees opportunity in women’s sports, and women bettors. Last year, sports betting app FanDuel hosted a fantasy football league with the Gist, a female-focused sports outlet, hoping to attract more female bettors. And the company’s CEO, Amy Howe, has been vocal about the need to market more—and more effectively—to women.

That’s exactly where Gaming Society is hoping to make its money, at least for now. For the moment, the company is primarily a content play, and is trying to build out an audience for companies like FanDuel, who actually facilitate sports betting (so-called “sportsbooks,” which also include DraftKings, BetMGM, and a growing number of other competitors). These sportsbooks pay all sorts of “affiliate marketing” companies, including Gaming Society, for customer leads. But while Gaming Society doesn’t operate its own sportsbook today, Messler says the company will “explore opportunities as they come.”

The startup’s new financing should help it explore other avenues and offerings too—and Messler is convinced there are many.

“Women sports fans share so many of the same behavioral traits as sports bettors,” says Messler. “They are tech savvy, incredibly social and have been proven to over invest in their fandom of favorite leagues, teams and players.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the ways in which athletes or athletes’ associations could make money from sports betting partnerships.

Never miss a story: Follow your favorite topics and authors to get a personalized email with the journalism that matters most to you.