Why The “Battle of the Sexes” Was About More Than Tennis
Women have been fighting for equal rights and equal pay for decades. Many believe one of the first instances of social change in women’s sports was the tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in 1973.
Riggs challenged King to a match with a $100,000 prize, the "Battle of the Sexes" match became a huge exhibition that popularized tennis and even sparked a film 44 years later.
Riggs was a proactive showman who believed women belonged in either the bedroom or the kitchen. He had won men’s singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles at Wimbledon in 1939 as well as several U.S. championships throughout the years.
King was the number one female in the world and was advocating to get equal prize money for women on the tennis circuit. When King had won the U.S. Open in 1972, she took home $10,000 in prize money while the men’s singles winner took home $25,000.
On September 20, 1973, the two met in the Houston Astrodome in front of 30,000 fans and 50 million television viewers. King went on to beat Riggs in what is known as the “Battle of the Sexes” 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
"More About Social Change Than Tennis"
Title IX had just been passed the year before and King stated in an interview that she knew the match was more about social change than tennis. King also stated she was afraid to lose to Riggs, because it might set the movement of gender equality back 50 years.
After the win, King received endorsements from Adidas, Wilson tennis rackets, Colgate toothpaste and Sunbeam hair curlers, making her the one of the first female athlete superstars.
The new movie, “Battle of the Sexes” stars Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs, helping a new generation learn about a pivotal moment in the fight for gender equality. This film will take viewers behind the scenes and give them an insight into one of the most talked about tennis matches of all time.
The fight for gender equality is still ongoing. This is true especially in the sports industry where men have dominated professional and amateur leagues as well as the media and coaching positions.
For instance, 40 percent of all sports participants are female but they only receive four percent of the media coverage. This is also true at the college level. At a typical Division I school, two and a half dollars are spent on men’s sports for every dollar spent on women’s sports.
However, women are continuing to push the boundaries in the sports industry.
Girls participation in high school sports has increased for the last 25 consecutive years. Bigger audiences are also being drawn to women’s sports. In fact, women’s collegiate softball often draws bigger audiences than men’s baseball. The women’s College World Series averaged 44,000 more viewers than the men’s College World Series.
The Almighty Dollar
Although the money for women’s sports is lacking, the money females spend on sporting apparel is just as valued as men.
Several retailers, including Dick’s Sporting Goods and Under Armour, recently launched their first advertising campaigns dedicated solely to women, even featuring elite female athletes. Nike’s women apparel grew nearly 30 percent in just over a year and their women’s sales growth is outpacing the men’s, equating to about $5 billion in revenue.
While women still battle for gender equality and equal pay, the feature film “Battle of the Sexes” may help instill confidence in female athletes everywhere and create more conversation around these important social issues.
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