The push in women’s professional tennis came in 1970 from Billie Jean King, who worked relentlessly to raise the sport’s profile. King and eight other women became the first professional players when they signed contracts with Gladys Heldman, the publisher of World Tennis publications. Held in Houston in 1970, the first professional women’s event offered a $7500 prize purse. The following year, the series grew to nineteen tournaments and carried a total prize purse of $309,100. The WTA project was created by women to showcase women’s sport.
Scrymgeour believes that women’s cycling can learn from the example set by King and the other women who built women’s professional tennis. To be sure, budgets remain small in women’s cycling and media attention is difficult to attract. Those things are not easy to change. “The key is, the biggest message, women have to get out there and start doing it,” she said. “It has become obvious to me this past year, if we want to grow this sport, we have to stop complaining about the way things are.” Instead, women have to get out and make something happen in the sport.
Because women’s cycling is still a relatively new sport, there is an opportunity for women to define the sport in their own way. “Women’s cycling can be different from men’s cycling. Women’s cycling coverage can be different from men’s cycling coverage,” said Scrymgeour. She believes it is especially important to tell the riders’ stories. “Women get inspired by hearing the story about the person,” she said. “Men do, too. But I think if you want to target women specifically, you need to tell a story.”
For Scrymgeour, getting the women’s cycling seen and building an audience for it are the most pressing priorities for the sport. She believes there are changes the UCI could make to help improve women’s cycling and make it more professional, but the main push needs to come from riders, teams, sponsors, media, and fans. “Small things like changing the rules at the UCI level helps, but mostly, we have to get the sport seen,” she said.