TN50 - driving the next 50 years of growth in women's sports. Presented by Axios and Deep Blue
May 4, 2024 - Sports

WNBA ticket sales soar as interest grows in Caitlin Clark, Aces

Caitlin Clark shoots ball

Caitlin Clark, Indiana Fever guard, shoots a free throw during the game against the Dallas Wings during the WNBA Preseason Game on May 3 in Arlington, Texas. Photo: Cooper Neill/NBAE via Getty Images

Driven in part by the star power of newly-drafted Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark, the WNBA has seen a surge in popularity in recent years, driving a boost in ticket sales and prices.

Why it matters: It's the latest sign that women's professional sports are experiencing an unprecedented boom, with the possibility of bringing in more business opportunities and acclaim for both players and teams.

  • Women's sports play a key role in "putting women's equity in front of us as a society, and sort of showcasing what women's leadership looks like on and off the court — in front office as well as in our players," Alycen McAuley, the chief business officer of the Washington Mystics, told Axios.

The big picture: Much of the recent attention has focused on Clark.

  • Her drafting led to an immediate doubling in the Fever's average ticket price, with other teams also seeing sales rise for games against the Fever, Laura Correnti, founder and chief executive officer of Deep Blue Sports + Entertainment, told NPR earlier this month.
  • Both the Las Vegas Aces and the Washington Mystics have even moved their games against the Indiana Fever to bigger arenas in part due to Clark's massive popularity, AP reported.

Catch up quick: Yet the upward trend in WNBA ticket sales and prices has been occurring for years.

  • McAuley estimates that the newfound popularity of the WNBA really began to take off in 2019, when Cathy Engelbert became the league's commissioner.

What she's saying: Since then, the league has seen "increased financial support from brands and corporate partnerships" and expanded broadcasting partnerships, McAuley said.

  • She predicts that women's sports will "easily surpass" the $1 billion in revenue that Deloitte predicted it would rake in this year, which in and of itself is 300% higher than the 2021 evaluation.
  • "Women's sports right now is one of the biggest growth opportunities from an investment standpoint in the marketplace today," McAuley added.

State of play: For the Mystics in particular, despite moving to a smaller arena in 2019, the team has seen average ticket prices steadily increase and seen tickets sell out at faster rates, she noted.

  • While the Mystics sold out nine games last season, they are "well on track" to beat that this season, according to McAuley.
  • Other teams have also seen their ticket sales and prices increase.

Case in point: According to a spokesperson for the Connecticut Sun, the team has seen its "average ticket price" increase from $33 pre-pandemic to over $45 currently.

  • "We anticipate 5-7 sellouts this season which would be double each of the last few years, they added.
  • A Seattle Storm spokesperson told Axios that — with the caveat that the team has played in a few different arenas over the past few years — the team's average ticket price has spiked from roughly $34 in 2018 to $71 in 2024.

In March, the Las Vegas Aces became the first WNBA team ever to sell out of all their season tickets. But the good news also extended to individual game sales.

  • "When we put single game tickets on sale the first week of April, five games sold out within a few days, and we are on pace to become the first WNBA team to sell out the entirety of its ticket inventory for a season," John Maxwell, the team's vice president of media relations, told Axios.
  • Before this year, the Aces had never sold out a game before the start of the season, he added.

Between the lines: The Seattle Storm spokesperson said the team had seen particular price increases for their games against the Indiana Fever and Chicago Sky, highlighting the popularity of players like Clark, Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese.

  • Tickets for the Chicago Sky's game against the Fever are selling on Ticketmaster for as much as $1,700.
  • The Fever's game against the Minnesota Lynx is the most expensive on the secondary market, with the median ticket price hitting $615, according to Forbes.
  • It's "not uncommon" now to see tickets for Mystics games sell for 10 times their worth on the secondary market, McAuley told Axios.

The bottom line: "It's been this really poor argument that's been made over time of 'no one cares about women's sports,'" McAuley said.

  • "I think what you're seeing in terms of all this interest in women's sports right now is when you showcase women's sports, fans are really interested in it," she said.

Go deeper: Sue Bird: "Society finally caught up" with women's basketball

Go deeper