Campaign Equal Prize Money for Women Tennis Players
Client Sony Ericsson WTA Tour
PR Team In-house and Cohn & Wolf
Timescale March 2006 to February 2007
Last March, the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour approached Cohn & Wolfe to drive favourable prize money decisions for female players at Wimbledon and the French Open.
To raise awareness of unequal prize money for men and women among key influencers, with particular focus on the All England Club and Roland Garros committees who control prize funds.
Strategy and plan
The tennis world has spent over 30 years arguing about whether women’s matches, which are shorter, offer the same entertainment value as men’s. Cohn & Wolfe decided to focus on the ethical argument – in the 21st century it is indefensible for a professional body to treat men and women differently.
The campaign launched with opportunities to interview tennis superstars Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and women’s tour founder, Billie Jean King.
Following news last April that disparity in prize money would continue for Wimbledon 2006 – with £655,000 awarded to the men’s champion and £625,000 to the women’s – the PR team launched a lobbying programme. This was targeted at key decision makers, pressure groups and MPs, including Culture, Media and Sports Minister Tessa Jowell.
Larry Scott, CEO of the WTA, held personal briefings, 100 MPs signed an Early Day Motion in support of the campaign and positive endorsement was secured from Tony Blair during Prime Minister’s Questions.
ther tactics included holding a photocall at the pre-Wimbledon Players Party, where Tour board member Sir Richard Branson and current stars of the WTA tour highlighted the cumulative difference in prize money received by male and female players over the last decade – some £10m plus.
After the UK championship, momentum was maintained with Tessa Jowell, Mayor Livingstone and Meg Munn MP writing directly to All England Club chairman Tim Phillips. Furthermore, Scott explained the WTA’s rationale at an All England Club conference. These tactics were mirrored in France.
Measurement and evaluation
The campaign scored 161 print articles including the front page of The Daily Telegraph, plus items in the Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Financial Times, The Sunday Times, The Independent, The Sun and Daily Express.
The issue was also picked up in 333 online and 374 broadcast pieces with coverage including the Today programme, ITV News, Channel 4 News, Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and GMTV, while interviews with Scott appeared on the BBC, CNN and Sky.
On 22 February, the All England Club called an end to 123 years of inequality, announcing that male and female players would be awarded equal prize money for Wimbledon 2007. On 16 March, Roland Garros followed suit.
‘Tennis has always suffered from a preference towards men,’ says Daily Express tennis writer Nigel Clarke. ‘The campaign has been a triumph, for which the WTA has fought long and hard. At last, Wimbledon has fallen into line and women’s tennis has taken its rightful place in the echelon of sport.’
Henry Chappell (pictured, above) is MD & founder of sports specialists Pitch PR: The success of this campaign lies firmly with the clever use of the ethical argument of female equality. In doing so, Cohn & Wolfe delivered a powerful call to action for those who were lobbied to support the campaign. Aiming high for endorsers like Tony Blair was a win-win scenario for both client and supporter, as few would ever come out against equal prize money.
The political backing that was secured from MPs’ endorsement ensured that the issue was front of mind. This meant it could easily be positioned on the news agenda.
Once the campaign had political momentum, the use of players helped create good copy and bring the campaign back to the sports pages. The whole effect delivered multi-dimensional coverage.
In the end, this made it nearly impossible for the All England Club not to act positively.
There was a danger the campaign could appear to be bullying the All England Club into a corner. This was avoided and, indeed, the All England Club came across well – crucial for the ongoing relationship between Sony Ericcsson WTA and women’s tennis as a whole.
Essentially, the campaign positioned itself as a national debate, but in reality there was nobody arguing the other side, so the coverage was consistently positive and created ‘Talkability’ around a long running saga. Equally, being able to offer access to high profile players meant the media was always likely to be positive.