By Mylena Vazquez
BOOM! It’s a match!
The world of online dating has changed a lot since Match.com was first introduced in 1995. On Tinder alone, users swiped left and right over 3 billion times in one day. Online dating has become so ubiquitous that even The Late Late Show with James Corden created a segment called Late Late Live Tinder, where audience members “swipe” left and right on real people, in person, in real time.
Me and you and everyone we know has used a dating app
I’ll be the first to admit it: a lot of my dating has been through apps. And I’m not alone. According to a 2019 Pew survey, 38% of 30-49 year olds and a whopping 48% of 18-29 year olds reported having used some form of online dating. In 2021, 56% of millennials said they knew someone who met their significant other through one of these platforms.
As the use of dating apps increases, the stigma historically attached to meeting your partner this way is becoming less and less prominent. Yet the experience of using dating apps is not always positive. Tales of Tinder dates gone wrong abound. Horror stories of scammers prowling Plenty of Fish for their next victim aren’t uncommon. And as we all know, there’s enough catfishing taking place to warrant a whole TV show.
When Amanda Bradford created a new dating app called The League in 2014, her goal was to change that—at least for a certain group of people. Because not just anyone can join The League. Bradford’s app is intentionally exclusive, designed as a way for highly educated, ambitious, and “classy” professionals to meet similar people.
Dollars, degrees, and dating
While The League doesn’t directly ask income, the info isn’t hard to infer based on everything else it does ask. For starters, the app requires you to associate your LinkedIn account with your profile, which it uses to fill in your occupation, education, etc. Though Bradford has said that The League accepts all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds, with the “the common thread [being] ambition and a drive to succeed,” stats show that 99% of Leaguers are college-educated. And according to Bradford herself, it was estimated in 2015 that over 39% of women on the app were earning six figures. These data show that The League must have a way to gauge and track the financial position of its users.
Another factor leading to the classification of The League as an upper-crust dating platform is its pricing. Though there is a free version of the app, where users are called “guests,” its features are limited and applicants are forced onto a waitlist of people trying to gain entry. The paid tiers—“member,” “owner,” and “investor,”—cost $200, $400, and $1,000 per month, respectively—making it one of the most expensive dating apps in the world.
The waiting game
This sense of exclusivity means that people really want to get in. Taking inspiration from its name, the app’s admissions process is as selective as that of an Ivy. As of 2021, the acceptance rate is about 20-30%, but when the app debuted in 2015, that rate was just 4%—lower than Harvard’s record low 5.3% acceptance rate that same year.
There are tens of thousands of people nationwide on the waitlist. Some people wait just a day to be accepted, others wait weeks or months. The League’s acceptance process is obscure and there’s no telling when, or if, you’ll be pulled off the waitlist.
Whether manufactured or not, The League has positioned itself as an aspirational group. The app reinforces this by crafting an image of the prototypical Leaguer, or what potential users want to hear about themselves: “You’re smart, busy & ambitious. You don’t need a dating app to get a date—you’re too popular as it is.” It then details the benefits the app provides to such an overcommitted go-getter as the prospective applicant.
All Leaguers are elite, but not all elites are Leaguers
The League may have a waitlist, but not every high achiever wants in. While socioeconomic and cultural factors are central to The League’s brand, I would argue that personal factors play an even bigger role.
People with a college degree are already the group most likely to use dating apps in general, and are also the most likely to enter into a committed relationship with someone they met online, according to the Pew Research Center. So how does an elitist app like The League market itself differently?
The League’s nicheness does not come from catering to college-educated people or to young professionals or to the wealthy. Not all people who are highly educated and financially successful have the personality of The League’s target customer. And those who do might not want to date someone exactly like them. The League’s niche lies in that they cater to people with certain characteristics who are looking to date people just like them.
Ultimately, isn’t that what most dating apps also do?
Have you gotten off The League’s waitlist? What are your thoughts on niche dating apps?