Ashley Wellington-Fahey & Erica Boeke are part of Oxygen’s digital series In Progress 52. In 2016, Oxygen's Very Real digital hub is featuring 52 of these outstanding women: that's one woman a week, for 52 weeks. Check out the series here!
When Ashley Wellington-Fahey was a kid, she’d tell people that she wanted to grow up to be the Katie Couric of the Seattle Mariners. The fact that she thought one baseball team needed a dedicated journalist shows both her passionate fandom, and the need for girls to invent the jobs they wanted for themselves in that world. “At the time, women in sports— that wasn’t something you saw a lot of," she said.
Now Wellington-Fahey and fellow co-founder Erica Boeke are launching The Relish, an online community for women sports fans who had no space for themselves in the conversation until now. For both of them, it has been a long journey.
As she grew up, Wellington-Fahey set aside her dreams and decided to go the more practical route by studying to become a teacher. But a part of her knew it wasn’t the right fit.
“Going into college, people would say,’What are you passionate about?’ and I’d say, ‘I’m passionate about baseball.’ Unfortunately somebody told me, ‘It’s all about who you know.’ And that it’s a really hard industry to get into—not the kind of thing a young girl should hear.”
Senior year she took an elective about the “business of baseball,” where she was able to discuss history, build a team from the ground up, and learn about sports theory. She remembers thinking, “I’ve made a huge mistake.”
Not long after, Wellington-Fahey decided to pursue a position at the Mariners’ radio broadcast. Soon she was working for her favorite team, and becoming the person she had imagined at age 10, when a confluence of events built her special connection to the team.
“It was 1995, and the Mariners for the first time ever were doing really well and the city sort of exploded and rallied around them. At the same time, my parents were going through a divorce, it was a really hard time in my life.
“So my mom pulled me out of school one day, and she had tickets to the wild card game. It was kind of the decision-making game whether the Mariners would go on to the playoffs. I just remember how overwhelmed I was with everything that was going on around me. People were so happy. I watched everybody band together and it was like I found meaning in something outside of myself for the first time. They ended up winning and everybody rushed the fields.”
Getting that first job for her home team closed the circle of that incredible moment but, of course, things weren’t perfect.
“I came into that world, and it’s very male dominated and I was often the only woman in the room as a 22-year-old. I just remember looking around thinking, wow, this is really neat, this is special and I have every right to be here too...I began to realize how few women there are, and how important it would be for us to band together.”
One amazing thing about the internet is the ease of finding like-minded people. Wellington-Fahey began to imagine a place where female sports fans could go to share their enthusiasm, and feel like their interests were being catered to without condescension or stereotyping. As she did some exploratory Googling, she discovered author and marketing executive, Erica Boeke. Boeke was working for Condé Nast, but her dream was, coincidentally, to launch a start-up site for female sports fans. She admits that, by the time Wellington-Fahey found her, that dream had died. Her first attempt was in 2008, right around the time the market crashed. In 2011, she wrote an article for The Huffington Post about ”the changing face of the game,” or women in sports. It was one of the first things to pop up on Wellington-Fahey’s search, and she was so inspired by it that she tracked Boeke down. They got on the phone together and Wellington-Fahey says it was “like fireworks.”
She adds, “This is a shared dream that we had separately. We started out two strangers on opposite sides of the country, but everything has come together like magic.”
At first, Wellington-Fahey wanted Boeke to be her mentor, but before long, Boeke offered to co-found The Relish and to serve as its chief content officer. Together they built a strategy to grow their audience, reaching as many fans as possible through a weekly newsletter. The Relish also has a relationship with Medium, where they post articles by the likes of Rachel Shuster, the first woman to ever have a national sports column.
There is certainly no shortage of websites about baseball, basketball, football -- any kind of athletics you want. Wellington-Fahey says that what’s different is tone, and for many women that means feeling accepted.
“We spent a ton of time doing market research and surveys to make sure what they were feeling as fans was, in fact, true. There is a percentage of women into stats and analytics, but a huge amount are less interested. We also hear stories like, ‘I changed by screenname to a male name so that people don’t make fun of me.’ There’s still a long way to go in sports.”
Wellington-Fahey says they won’t be shying away from difficult topics that range outside of statistics either, particularly ones that relate to female fandom like domestic abuse allegations or scandal.
“If a story is out there, and it’s a top story, we’re gonna talk about it. As we grow, we’re sitting on a valuable opportunity to be a voice on those things and give people a safe place to talk about it. Without the fear of being judged or trolled or bullied. “
But when asked if “feminism” figures into The Relish’s brand, she is practical.
“It’s not a word we lead with… we don’t necessarily make it about feminism. We want to make it about being a fan.”
Though some of her inspiration for The Relish came from noticing the dearth of female leadership around her, Wellington-Fahey says that overall her experiences with men in sports have been pretty good.
“I’ve been really lucky in my experience in sports in which I had very supportive male leaders. My mentors were men and they were always very supportive. They always told me I could do anything...don’t change who you are, because it will get you far.
“I’ve always stood my ground, I’ve always been exactly who I am. I have navigated my career with confidence, and with just a belief in myself and I think that if women can do that and look themselves in the mirror and believe in themselves and where they’re going that will get you so far.”