Behind The Scenes

Power of IX: ‘Battle of the Sexes’ match highlights Title IX weekend

ESPN Classic will air the historic 1973 'Battle of the Sexes' match (June 23, 9 p.m. ET) when tennis legend
Billie Jean King defeated former No. 1-ranked men's tennis player Bobby Riggs.

ESPN’s three-month multiplatform initiative, The Power of IX, recognizing the 40th anniversary of Title IX, will culminate next weekend, June 22-24, with three days of multi-network event coverage and studio shows highlighting women in sports. The special programming effort will encompass more than 170 hours across multiple networks — ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3, ESPN Classic, Longhorn Network — including a full day of programs on Saturday, June 23.

ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions Carol Stiff was instrumental in coordinating the weekend. Front Row spoke with her about The Power if IX initiative she helped spearhead from the beginning and next weekend’s programming line-up, which includes a rare airing of the epic Battle of the Sexes: 1973 Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs match (Saturday, July 23, at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN Classic), which was last seen on television in 2003.

The full schedule can be seen by clicking here.

FR: Can you talk about the decision to have a ‘Women in Sports’ Day across ESPN networks?
CS: It was one of the easiest decisions we ever had to make. I worked on coverage of the 30th and 35th anniversaries, so when brainstorming with a small group of executives about the 40th, we easily determined that dedicating a day of programming made sense. The Power of IX initiative complements ESPN’s wide variety and high profile women’s sport portfolio, our continued commitment to be the industry leader in cross-platform coverage of women’s sports and the growth of espnW.com.

FR: What went into pulling this day of programming together?
CS: After a meeting led by John Skipper (then ESPN Executive Vice President of Content) in November 2011 and his instructions to “run with it”, we went full steam ahead with continuous companywide planning with a cross-departmental team of almost 100 ESPN staffers. I used the analogy that Title IX is not just ‘mine’ but ‘ours’, and we need to paint The Power of IX espnW portrait together. In January, we divided into four teams and each team – digital/print content, programming content and finance, on-campus events and ESPN Films – met bi-weekly. On the off week, we met as a large group. As we moved closer to June 23, the large group met weekly. The collaboration, cooperation and information sharing have been phenomenal. So in short, it took a village working as one to successfully implement our global strategic plans.

FR: How did the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs ‘Battle of the Sexes’ match become part of the June 23 programming mix?
CS: The “Battle of the Sexes” match is often the first sporting memory one acknowledges when reflecting on the women’s movement and the benefits of Title IX. It made perfect sense for ESPN Classic to acquire and re-air the historic match. It is a great opportunity for all sports fans to once again celebrate and reflect on the impact this singular sporting event had on our society.

FR: This day is a culmination of six months of hard work and dedication to recognize Title IX. How has Title IX impacted your life?
CS: Title IX in one word means opportunity. It has allowed me to compete in life, not just within the sports landscape. I hope we don’t have to demand, defend and question this law over the next 40 years and that the opportunities afforded by Title IX are always and readily available to all. Period.

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