During the September 2017 opening weekend of Fox Searchlight's "Battle of the Sexes," parent company 21st Century Fox pledged to donate 79 cents for every ticket sold to the Women's Sports Foundation, a nonprofit founded by tennis icon Billie Jean King, on whom the film is based. The campaign sought to honor the movie's frank discussion of relevant issues such as inclusion, gender equality and the wage gap.
"Battle of the Sexes" recounts the legendary 1973 tennis match between King, then the women's world champion, and Bobby Riggs, the former men's champion, and also tells a larger cultural story, capturing the Women's Movement in America at a critical turning point. Newly passed Title IV legislation outlawed discrimination on the basis of sex, and King emerged as an outspoken leader in the fight for equal pay. She also knew that if she could beat Riggs on television, she could inspire young women around the world.
21CF launched the campaign with these themes in mind. Its objectives were:
1) Drive interest in "Battle of the Sexes" and encourage audiences to view the film on opening weekend
2) Raise funds for the Women's Sports Foundation and its programs supporting female athletes of all ages and abilities
3) Raise awareness of the ongoing wage gap and other gender inequalities that still exist across countless industries in the U.S.
4) Develop a curriculum guide to help high school students understand the cultural context of the match, as well as the history of the women's movement
21CF structured the strategy for the "Battle of the Sexes" campaign to reflect the movie's thematic scope and range of social issues addressed.
First, the film depicts a female athlete prevailing against a male one at a time when women's sports were largely considered second-tier. The celebration of female athletes was a key component of the "Battle of the Sexes" campaign and guided 21CF's partnership with the Women's Sports Foundation.
The story also takes place at a critical point when the fight for equal pay between male and female athletes reached a national stage. King's advocacy for women's tennis prize money to equal that of men's drove her public persona and voice.
Finally, the match itself was one of the most-watched sporting events of all time and became a groundbreaking source of inspiration for young women. 21CF recognized that this story can continue to serve this purpose today, which led the company to use it as both an inspirational and educational tool, sparking conversations about feminism, diversity, and gender equality.
These major themes—celebrating female athletes, fighting for gender parity and LGBT inclusion, and inspiring the next generation—formed the strategy for the donation campaign and its accompanying activations. To implement, 21CF adopted the following tactics:
1. Partner with the Women's Sports Foundation to directly support emerging female athletes as they train and compete
2. Donate 79 cents per ticket told in order to raise awareness of the gender wage gap in the U.S.
3. Develop a curriculum guide tied to "Battle of the Sexes" that brings the film's major themes to classrooms
A portion of the funds raised from the campaign would go towards a special fund at WSF, which supports emerging but underserved female athletes at the elite level, researches the impact of sports on girls, works directly with schools and youth leagues to help attract and retain female talent, and funds programs that are intentionally inclusive of young African-American and Hispanic girls.
The gender wage gap is at the center of the "Battle of the Sexes" story and experts today say that women in the U.S. still only earn 79 cents for every dollar paid to men. The 79-cent figure for the donation campaign was chosen to raise awareness of this disparity.
To the final point, 21CF and WSF worked together to create the curriculum guide, made available to high school and college educators for free along with a complimentary "Battle of the Sexes" DVD. The guide served to facilitate discussions on gender equality, LGBTQ acceptance, the history of the sexual revolution and the women's movement, diversity and inclusion broadly, the landmark Title IX legislation, and more.
21CF and WSF rolled out the campaign in September to coincide both with the film's opening weekend and the 44th anniversary of the historic match between King and Bobby Riggs. The campaign launched with the announcement of the ticket sales donation via a press conference on September 17, at which representatives from WSF as well as King herself appeared.
The campaign to donate 79 cents for every ticket to "Battle of the Sexes" sold during opening weekend successfully raised a total of $40,000 for the Women's Sports Foundation. The campaign also helped Fox Searchlight accomplish its business goal, with the movie grossing a total of $12.6 million domestically.
The donation supported a special edition of WSF's Travel and Training Fund, which serves women who have shown leadership in advocating for, or otherwise furthering, greater inclusivity in their sport. Travel & Training Grants provide financial support to promising female athletes who have demonstrated financial need and would not otherwise be able to afford basic necessities like coaching, travel and equipment to achieve even higher performance levels and rankings. Thanks to 21CF, more emerging female athletes can train with the best coaches, enter the best competitions, and take their athletic achievements to higher heights.
The campaign also successfully brought the film and its cultural conversation to students. Educators across the country continue to download the free curriculum guide for use in the classroom to this day.
Measures such as these ensure the future of the Battle of the Sexes story and contribute to the larger causes of gender equality, diversity, and inclusiveness.
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