The Caitlin Clark Effect: What It Is and How the WNBA is Responding


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The WNBA is finally getting the credit it deserves after nearly 30 years of professional basketball. What has launched this professional league into the mainstream? You can thank a 22-year-old girl from Des Moines, Iowa. The Caitlin Clark effect has overtaken the W and changed the league. Here’s what you need to know about modern women’s basketball in 2024 and beyond. 

What Is the Caitlin Clark Effect?

If you’re a sports fan, you probably know who Caitlin Clark is by now. She spent four years at the University of Iowa and became a nationwide sensation due to her incredible play. Her four years as a Hawkeye drew comparisons to Pete Maravich due to her elite ability to pass and score. While her junior and senior seasons took the country by storm, Clark was a five-star recruit coming out of high school. Still, you couldn’t have predicted her effect on the game. 

While Clark is an excellent player, other greats who have played before her are worth noting. Candace Parker, Sheryl Swoopes, Maya Moore and Cynthia Cooper deserve their flowers. However, the older players didn’t have the visibility that Clark and other modern players enjoy. Social media and increased TV coverage have brought more eyeballs to college and professional women’s basketball. Now, you can see the leagues in full bloom. 

What Effect Does Caitlin Clark Have on Basketball?

Caitlin Clark has become larger than basketball because of her effect on the sport and media coverage. How much does one player impact the league? Here are a few ramifications you can see on and off the court.  

College Ratings Records

Caitlin Clark playing defense against a Minnesota player.

Discussing Clark’s greatness requires going back to college. She came onto the scene during the 2023 NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament. Clark set records in March Madness with back-to-back 40-point games and multiple triple-doubles. However, her stardom rose in the Final Four, as Clark scored 41 points and led her Hawkeyes over undefeated South Carolina. While Iowa lost to LSU, Clark’s stardom only rose higher. 

The 2024 tournament saw South Carolina, Iowa and LSU making deep runs again. This time, the Hawkeyes got revenge over the LSU Tigers in a thrilling 94-87 victory. The rematch earned an average of 12.3 million viewers, as the nation wanted to see Clark and Angel Reese. The championship match against South Carolina shattered the previous record by averaging nearly 19 million viewers. More people watched the women’s championship game than the men’s final.

Rapid WNBA Ratings Rise

While she was a college sensation, Clark wasn’t done before hitting the pros. She was the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2024 Draft, even though great talent sat behind her. The Indiana Fever lost 27 games in 2023 and earned the right to draft the Iowa native. Clark has struggled in some of her early games, but the TV audiences have shown up for her games. While people want to see Clark, they show love to the other WNBA teams by increasing their ratings. 

The WNBA’s viewership has skyrocketed since the season started in mid-May. Since the first tip-off, the league has seen tripled viewership compared to the 2023 season. Each game gets about 1.3 million viewers despite just a 462,000 average a year ago. While the league has become more talented, it’s hard to attribute it to anything but the Caitlin Clark effect. Her battles with Angel Reese and the Chicago Sky have become must-see TV for basketball fans. 

Increased WNBA Attendance

Higher ratings are excellent for the league and advertisers. However, players benefit from sellout crowds and engaged fans coming to their games. Nobody wants to play in front of empty stands where all you can hear is players yelling and shoes squeaking. Fans drive excitement in any sport and are more engaged with women’s basketball. The W says it has sold out more than half the games on the schedule, with over 400,000 people showing up for its exhibitions. 

What does higher attendance mean for the league? Fans are buying jerseys and other merchandise to support their teams. Despite all three entering their rookie season, Clark, Reese and Cameron Brink are among the most popular jerseys in the WNBA. Clark’s Indiana Fever kit is the most popular jersey for a rookie in Fanatics history. Consider the magnitude of this statistic, considering former No. 1 picks like Trevor Lawrence.

How Is the WNBA Responding to the Caitlin Clark Effect?

The WNBA isn’t blind to Clark’s celebrity. How has the league responded to her meteoric rise and effect on women’s basketball? Here are a few significant impacts this season. 

Charter Flights

Private jet on the runway during sunset

The WNBA has received criticism for making players take commercial flights. The decision may have made sense for operating costs and because the league wasn’t popular enough to cause a stir at airports. However, the WNBA’s recent rise in popularity has forced the league to change its travel rules. Before the rule change, players like Breanna Stewart and Nneka Ogwumike called on the league to let teams use chartered flights. 

Now, the 12 teams are getting their wishes. The Caitlin Clark effect immediately led to charted flights after a preseason incident in Dallas. Clark and her Fever teammates arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport only to see crowds waiting on them. The proximity to players necessitates more privacy and security for their safety. Therefore, the WNBA announced a partnership with Delta to give each team charter flights in 2024. 

Moving Facilities

Full basketball arena awaiting a game

WNBA teams have played in smaller arenas for nearly 30 years because of lacking attendance. Basketball facilities generally have less seating capacity than your average football stadium because of the court’s size. A 75,000-seat arena doesn’t make sense when your playing surface is barely 31 feet long. That said, the arrival of Caitlin Clark has forced the WNBA to move its games to different facilities. Will more money lead to arena renovations in the future?

Some teams have moved their games against the Indiana Fever to accommodate higher demand. For instance, the Washington Mystics typically play home games at Entertainment and Sports Arena. This complex is too small for the anticipated attendance, so the Mystics moved their game to the larger Capital One Arena. Fitting people inside a 20,000-seat arena is more manageable than one with only 4,000 chairs to sit. 

The Rookie Treatment

While Caitlin Clark has helped women’s basketball, her effect hasn’t given her special treatment on the court. The other players have shown her little mercy by shoving her or throwing elbows to rough her up. While she has faced veteran players, her incidents with fellow rookie Reese have made headlines due to hard fouls and post-game comments. Clark has taken the fouls in stride and understood they’re a part of the game. 

Rookies receive harsh treatment in every sport. You can’t expect to enter a league and dominate from the get-go. The Detroit Pistons forced Michael Jordan to play by the Jordan rules, including hard fouls and rough play if he drove the lane for a lay-up. Some players talk trash and throw elbows to see what first-year players are made of, and Clark is no exception. She’ll improve her game and earn respect over time. 

Watching the Rise of Women’s Basketball

The WNBA has had plenty of talent since its 1996 incorporation. Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo and Dawn Staley were the sport’s earliest stars and deserved more recognition for their skills. Now, the W is finally getting the TV and arena audiences it deserves, and the Caitlin Clark effect receives much of the credit. The Iowa native has brought eyeballs to the sport and will only help the future as she plays more games. 

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