Parity Week by Gainbridge Hopes to Use a Week of Women's Sports and Initiatives to Help Close the Pay and Opportunity Gap

Parity Week by Gainbridge Hopes to Use a Week of Women's Sports and Initiatives to Help Close the Pay and Opportunity Gap

By Jeff Babineau


As the host of a golf tournament with her own name on it next week along the tranquil Gulf Coast of Florida, an event that is filled with exciting and empowering women’s events on the golf course and off it, LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam will have plenty to keep her busy.


Ah, but there will be more than just the golf for her this week. Beyond serving as acting host with many responsibilities at The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican – entertaining top players, overseeing a pro-am, participating in a leadership summit and conducting a junior clinic – Sorenstam also will be keeping a close watch on . . . motorsports in Phoenix? And tennis in Spain?


That’s correct. Welcome to Parity Week by Gainbridge, a celebration of women’s sports alongside its sister company, Parity, which was established in 2020 to close the gender income and opportunity gap in professional sports. Parity week will include three high-powered events, all sponsored by Gainbridge, during which 180 women across three widely different sports will compete for nearly $13 million in prize funds.


These events, all played in the window of Nov. 6-12, include The Annika driven by Gainbridge (a $3.25 million golf tournament in Belleair, Florida); The Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge, a 12-team tennis final in Seville, Spain, in which the winners will earn the equivalent of what the men make at the Davis Cup); and the Women with Drive III – Driven by Mobil 1 motorsports conference, which follows NASCAR Championship Weekend in Phoenix.


Hosting the respective events are three legends from women’s sports: in addition to Sorenstam hosting her namesake golf tournament – where nine of the world’s top-10 players will compete – former Indianapolis 500 1992 top rookie Lyn St. James will be in Phoenix for a week of events around NASCAR’s 2023 finale, and Billie Jean King will be host to her namesake cup in Spain, where 12 teams remain from a record starting field of 134 countries.


King, weeks away from turning 80 and a winner of 39 Grand Slam tennis titles — 12 in singles, 16 in doubles, and 11 in mixed doubles — is scheduled to get on a plane for Seville on Saturday, a point in the globe she said she has never been before. But being a part of such a grand week across women’s sports is something that genuinely excites her, as if she is a rookie once again, and headed to her very first tournament. (In truth, she played this event, formerly the Federation Cup, as a 19-year-old some 60 years ago.)


King is a keen observer of all sports and feels that women’s sports have some nice momentum right now. She points to some telltale signs that she sees that tell her this is more than a feeling, that women’s sports continue to gain ground, and are closer to experiencing a “tipping point.”

What tells her there is momentum? She nods to a company such as Gainbridge, which spends 40 percent of its annual sponsorship dollars on supporting women’s sports (she notes the national average is roughly 9 percent). She points to the $13 million up for grabs amongst women in a single week of sports competition. Though media staffs at publications have downsized through the years, King notes that 15 percent of overall sports coverage is now devoted to women’s sports, a significant jump from the 4-5 percent that women received in years past.


“I think we’re at a tipping point because people want to sponsor us,” King said during an engaging virtual press conference featuring all three legends together. “They care about us. They want us to have equality, particularly CEOs who have daughters.”


At Gainbridge, when asked why his company spends so much money on trying to lift women’s sports, Dan Towriss, CEO of the company’s parent, Group 1001, has a succinct answer. Because it is the right thing to do, Towriss said. At next week’s ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican golf tournament, the purse has been elevated to $3.25 million. Only at the LPGA’s five majors and the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship will players compete for a purse that is larger.


Leela Srinivasan is the CEO of Parity, which financially assists more than 900 female athletes that take part in more than 75 sports, from golf to tennis to motorsports, to American football and weightlifting. She says that the bolstered support by Gainbridge and Parity not only creates a great narrative across sports, but a shining example she hopes that other deep-pocketed sponsors will follow.


She looks to King, St. James and Sorenstam and realizes that her company’s backing in each of their respective sports not only paves the way for bigger things in the future, but also serves as a deserving tribute to three true pioneers.


“I think you’ll agree that this feels like a very timely conversation,” Srinivasan said. “People are really talking about 2023 as the year of women’s sports. We’ve seen incredible growth and interest. We’ve seen a surge in attention this year.


“... As we reflect on this transformative time, it’s a great time to pause and acknowledge the powerful strides that we’ve taken and the remarkable women who have all along the way defied the stereotypes, shattered glass ceilings, and really ignited a spark that continues to inspire all of us, millions if not billions of us around the world.”


One highlight at the three Parity Week events will be focused women’s gatherings conducted at each. The Women in Motorsports North America’s Women with Drive III – Driven by Mobil 1 Summit takes place on Nov. 7-8 in Phoenix. More than 400 people – men and women – are expected to attend, and new this year, both sessions will be available for the public via live-streaming, funded by Gainbridge. The encompassing theme is to promote more inclusiveness in the sport, and to find ways to bring more women into it.


“It’s a movement,” St. James said. “They’re showing up. ... I think this is going to open up a lot of eyes and ears, and for people to go, ‘Wow, I could have a career in this sport.’ ”


Among the topics to be addressed in Phoenix will be the opportunity for women to get involved in motorsports in a variety of different areas and avenues. For years, St. James, who raced in seven Indy 500s, and Janet Guthrie carried the mantle for women drivers. Eventually, others would follow, but St. James says there are many other opportunities for women to be involved in racing. Beth Paretta, she is quick to point out, owns an Indy Car team. During the NASCAR Championship Weekend in Phoenix there actually will be a car (No. 77 Gainbridge Chevrolet car, driven by Ty Dillon) that will carry the logos of all three events that are part of Parity Week. That will be an opportunity to better tell the story.


Thanks to Gainbridge, there is a significant opportunity for all three of the Parity Week events to expose their respective sports to new fans from many demographics.


The opportunity is one not lost on Sorenstam, who won 72 tournaments in her playing days and now is busily building her business portfolio as she leaves behind competing to begin a new chapter of her life. The tournament at Pelican will benefit her ANNIKA Foundation, which is thriving. And as she looks to the boundless possibilities of Parity Week, she sees some great upside.


“There is a long ways to go,” Sorenstam said. “I think we're going in the right direction. We're just going to keep on working and getting that exposure, talking about women and being seen. Every time we're seen and heard people love it, and they want to be a part of it.


“We’ve just got to continue to fight for that.”

November 6, 2023
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