March 4, 2024

The Caitlin Clark Effect: Can the WNBA Sustain the Momentum?

Just last week, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark announced her commitment to enter the 2024 WNBA draft once this season comes to a close. Days later, Clark broke the record for most career points in NCCA history. After an absolutely scorching season and college career, the WNBA has the opportunity to capitalize and turn this momentum into a movement for women’s basketball - but can they sustain it?

jason leung nM2WEy42Npg unsplash edited scaled - The Caitlin Clark Effect: Can the WNBA Sustain the Momentum? - Athelo Group

The WNBA has struggled since its inception to garner support from fans, paling in comparison to its NBA counterpart. The NBA is a multi-billion dollar business while the WNBA remains in the low millions to this day. Viewership has massive disparities between the leagues. In 2023, the WNBA drew an average of 728K viewers during finals - an impressive stat considering its 36% increase over the previous year and 20-year-high record viewership overall. In contrast however, the NBA witnessed an average of 11.64M viewers. Despite incredible growth in recent years, the metrics simply do not come close.

But there is growth - an exponential shift taking place that could set the league on a path to greater success. Leveraging the wave of support fans have built for star players like Clark and LSU’s Angel Reese (a duo that, together, blew records off the door with an astonishing 9.9M viewers tuning into their rival championship game) is the key to the future of the WNBA. Many talented women’s basketball players have similar stories - the rise up through their college teams, taking March Madness by storm, and winning NCAA Championships. Diana Taurasi, Sheryl Swoopes, Sue Bird, Lisa Leslie… the list could go on and on. The level of skill and ability to get a crowd off their feet is unmatched, but something different is happening with the latest generation. 

caitlin clark

The excitement for these young women has blossomed in a way that we haven’t quite seen before. The 2024 Big Ten Tournament has sold out completely for the first time, ever, in anticipation of Caitlin Clark’s appearance in the tournament. This comes after a completely sold out 2023-2024 season for Iowa women’s basketball - another first of its kind stat for the school. Not only are they selling out, but the average prices for seats at one of Clark’s games skyrocketed, setting sales records all season. There is an evident shift in the appetite of fans to show up and show out for their star players - something that must be harnessed by the WNBA to sustain its success and continue to flourish.

Leveraging unique viewing opportunities and spotlighting exciting players through social media is certainly a piece of the puzzle. In anticipation of Clark’s recent game against Maryland, Fox tapped into its TikTok audience with the Caitlin Clark Cam - providing an experience for viewers unlike the typical game feed that resulted in viewership of over 800K people alone. Cross-collaboration is another: the recent NBA All-Star Weekend first of its kind 3-Point Challenge with Sabrina Ionescu vs. Stephen Curry put these fan favorites in a toe-to-toe match that eclipsed the dunk contest by a mile, causing a storm of media excitement.

caitlin clark

In just six weeks the WNBA draft will prove a solid indicator of what’s ahead. With Caitlin Clark projected as the No. 1 pick by the Indiana Fever, ticket sales have already soared. Ticket website Vivid Seats estimates prices to double year-on-year with Clark on the squad. As for the WNBA, the league has a ways to go to catch up with NBA’s massive fan base and revenue. But armed with Clark and the next generation of female basketball stars, they’re definitely headed in the right direction.

Sources:

  1. https://frontofficesports.com/big-ten-womens-tournament-sells-out-for-first-time/?utm_source=Athelo+Group&utm_campaign=1c1992aadb-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_08_20_10_53_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_9477e18c65-1c1992aadb-
  2. https://www.wsn.com/nba/nba-vs-wnba/
  3. https://www.sportspromedia.com/news/wnba-finals-2023-tv-audience-viewership-ratings-espn/
  4. https://www.statista.com/statistics/240377/nba-finals-tv-viewership-in-the-united-states/#:~:text=The%202023%20NBA%20Finals%20were,the%20Boston%20Celtics%204%2D2.
  5. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaaw/2024/02/28/caitlin-clark-tickets-final-home-game-most-expensive/72776115007/
  6. https://www.ncaa.org/news/2024/2/15/media-center-the-caitlin-clark-effect.aspx
  7. https://www.nba.com/news/2024-stephen-vs-sabrina-3-point-challenge
  8. https://www.forbes.com/sites/shaneyoung/2024/02/18/stephen-curry-and-sabrina-ionescu-stole-the-show-on-all-star-saturday/?sh=8ae7ff571ec0
  9. https://twitter.com/caitlinclark22/status/1763313652277412179?s=42&t=BC9_zv0yoQ3gzEhZIjkJAw
  10. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/03/sports/ncaabasketball/lsu-iowa-womens-tournament-ratings-record.html
  11. https://www.thegazette.com/iowa-basketball/iowa-womens-basketball-sells-out-2023-24-season-tickets-for-first-time-in-program-history/ 

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