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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Caitlin Clark Drives Massive WNBA Draft Audience for ESPN

  • Monday's draft drew the league's biggest audience in more than two decades.
  • ESPN more than quadrupled last year’s draft ratings.
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

As Caitlin Clark smashed one women’s basketball TV record after another this season, the only question skeptics could ask is whether her drawing power would transfer from college to the WNBA.

Clark answered the way she typically does: by setting another TV record.

With Clark going to the Indiana Fever as the No. 1 overall pick, ESPN’s coverage of the 2024 WNBA draft averaged 2.45 million viewers Monday night. That more than quadrupled the audience of 572,000 viewers for last year’s draft, according to Sports Media Watch. It was the largest TV audience for a WNBA telecast—of any kind—since a New York Liberty vs. Houston Comets game on NBC drew 2.74 million in 2000. Over the subsequent quarter of a century, no WNBA telecasts, including playoff and final games, has cracked the 1 million viewer mark, according to SMW. 

The huge fervent audience for what seemed more like a coronation than an intrigue-laden draft bodes well for ESPN, Amazon, Ion and NBA TV’s coverage of Clark’s rookie season as a pro. It’s also perfect timing as the women’s hoops league seeks to double its rights fees from the current deal expiring after the 2025 season.  

Currently, the WNBA pulls a ridiculously low $60 million a year for its rights fees vs. $2.7 billion annually for the NBA. If commissioner Cathy Engelbert doesn’t get what she wants, she’s fully prepared to break away from the current joint contract talks with the NBA and hammer out her own deal. “We are ready for this moment,” Engelbert promised Monday night.

You can bet Olympics broadcaster NBC and USA basketball are also closely tracking Clark’s TV numbers. The 22-year-old former Iowa sharpshooter is eligible to join the U.S. women’s national basketball team at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Olympic marketing expert Rob Prazmark told FOS she would be a one-woman Dream Team when it comes to her TV appeal.

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