May 13, 2024 - News

The "Caitlin Clark effect" continues in WNBA

Animated illustration of Caitlin Clark driving, passing and shooting over a basketball grip pattern.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photos: Nathanial S. Butler, Cooper Neill and Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Caitlin Clark's gargantuan star power has already made its mark on WNBA broadcasting and advertising, even before her regular season premiere Tuesday. But achieving equal treatment similar to the NBA will be slower going.

Why it matters: The WNBA was already on an upward trajectory, but the arrival of superstars like Clark and LSU's Angel Reese put the league in a heightened position to garner more acclaim and deals for teams and their players.

Context: Clark already broke the glass ceiling at the University of Iowa by helping the women's basketball program achieve record-breaking ticket sales, viewership and a strong talent pipeline.

By the numbers: The WNBA draft this year, when the Indiana Fever selected Clark with the No. 1 pick, drew in 3.09 million viewers — four times higher than the 2023 draft.

  • Dick's Sporting Goods announced its selling Clark Fever apparel in all 724 of its stores following the craze for her college merch.
  • Tuesday's Fever game against the Connecticut Sun will be the first live sports event on Disney+ and is the Sun's first sold-out game since 2003.

Yes, but: The WNBA faces major financial shortcomings in comparison to the NBA.

  • Bloomberg News reports the WNBA was projected to make $180 million to $200 million for the 2023 season.
  • Meanwhile, the NBA earned over $10 billion at the end of its 2022 season, NBC reports.

Between the lines: The revenue differences make pay equity more difficult to achieve, despite players' stardom, says James Bisson, editor-in-chief of Sportsbook Review.

What they're saying: Garnering more casual fans by elevating players and their stories — similar to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant in the NBA — will help the WNBA charge more for broadcasts and earn more revenue overall.

  • Story arcs, like the rivalry between Clark and Reese, who plays for the Chicago Sky, is one example.
  • "The WNBA would be wise to follow the same path and really lean into its stars," Bisson says.

The bottom line: It's not a matter of "if" Clark will push the WNBA forward, but "when," Bisson says.

  • Clark's talent, combined with her personality, makes her one of the most "complete athletes" in both the NBA and WNBA, Bisson says.
  • "I do believe she will be a transcendent figure in the WNBA."

How to watch: Clark's first season game is at 6:30pm CT Tuesday on ESPN and Disney+.

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