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Monday, May 27, 2024

Caitlin Clark Debuts With WNBA’s Most-Watched Game in Decades

  • While the star suffered a blowout loss, it was a massive win for the WNBA and ESPN.
  • The game drew an average of 2.12 million viewers, the WNBA’s highest since 2001.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

WNBA, meet Clarkonomics.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA debut against the Connecticut Sun drew an average audience of 2.12 million viewers Tuesday night, the league’s most-viewed game in 23 years, according to Sports Media Watch.

The game, which aired on ESPN2, drew the biggest audience since the Los Angeles Sparks and Houston Comets played on Memorial Day back in 2001 on NBC. The number to beat is 5.04 million viewers, which holds the record for the WNBA’s largest all-time audience during a 1997 game between the Sparks and New York Liberty.

The Indiana Fever didn’t get a bigger viewership than the NBA playoff games Tuesday, but did best the Bruins-Panthers NHL playoff game on ESPN that bumped it to the network’s second platform, which had 1.99 million viewers. The Phoenix Mercury and Las Vegas Aces, who played on ESPN2 directly after the Fever and Liberty, drew only an average of 464,000 viewers.

The big draw is a huge moment for the league, ready for the business transformation that the stardom of Clark and her peers promises. The championship game of last year’s WNBA Finals, the most-watched of the series, drew an average of 889,000 viewers. The entire postseason was the league’s most watched in 16 years. This year’s draft blew those numbers out of the water, averaging 2.45 million viewers on ESPN. While Clark’s debut didn’t beat that figure, she still significantly moved the needle for a league itching for change.

While the Fever suffered a blowout loss to the Sun, new fans got a chance to see the league’s other stars in action. It’s a process players and coaches have been excited about: audiences tuning in for Clark and the other rookies starting to notice the vets. On his ESPN show, Pat McAfee complimented DeWanna Bonner’s “smooth” play as she became the league’s fifth all-time leading scorer during the game. “There are some bucket-getters on the other team that I have never heard of in my life,” McAfee said.

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