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Saturday, May 25, 2024

Bottom Line: WNBA Already Feeling the Impact of Incoming Stars

  • Demand for tickets to see Clark, both home and away, surges even before she is drafted.
  • The latest escalation for the league follows what was already a banner 2023 season.
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

After a season-long, Caitlin Clark–fueled bonanza across women’s college basketball that redefined the sport, the WNBA literally has next—and is poised to cash in on multiple fronts.

Recalling the league’s original marketing slogan, the WNBA is now starting to see some of the initial benefits from the incoming influx of Clark (above, left), as well as other stars such as LSU’s Angel Reese (above, right). Among the latest data points:

  • Even before Clark is a member of the Fever—she’s expected to be selected first by Indiana in the WNBA draft Monday—resale prices for the team’s home opener May 16 in some cases have surpassed $500 per ticket, before fees, and even is reaching $100 for upper-deck seats. Those ticket resale prices for the game in Indianapolis arrive on the heels of rising marketing by several other WNBA teams of Clark’s expected arrival as a visiting player to their towns.
  • Fueled in part by that road-market promotion, resale ticket pricing is ballooning across the league to see Clark and the Fever.
  • The two-time defending league champion Aces have moved a July 2 home game against the Fever from the 12,000-seat Michelob Ultra Arena at Mandalay Bay to the 20,000-seat T-Mobile Arena due to expected demand. Aces season tickets are already sold out in what is claimed to be a WNBA first.
  • League commissioner Cathy Engelbert aims to double its media rights, in part because of the momentum of the incoming stars, and could break off from joint negotiations with the NBA in pursuit of that boost. 

The rising expectations follow what was already a breakthrough 2023 season for the league with big increases posted in attendance, television viewership, and digital media consumption during the regular season, and further audience growth in the playoffs. 

“When you’re given an opportunity, women’s sports just kind of thrives,” Clark said. “It just continues to get better and better and better. That’s never going to stop.”

For Clark’s last college game, a title game loss to undefeated South Carolina, there was a final exclamation point Tuesday as a record-setting television audience, originally pegged at an average of 18.7 million in fast national metrics, was revised upward in final figures to 18.9 million. The event was the most-watched college basketball game—men’s or women’s—in ESPN’s history.

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