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Saturday, May 25, 2024

The Caitlin Clark Effect Has Hit the WNBA: Will Its Stars Capitalize?

  • The Indiana Fever rookie is bringing unprecedented attention to the league.
  • Stars on other teams now need to be marketed by their teams.
Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

Caitlin Clark hasn’t even played her first regular-season game in the WNBA, but the Indiana Fever rookie has already had a huge impact on the league. There have been sellouts, teams moving their games against Clark to bigger arenas, and a drastic increase in broadcast coverage for Indiana both nationally and locally.

It doesn’t look like Clark’s effect will slow down anytime this season, at least. She’s the favorite to win Rookie of the Year by a mile, has the third-best WNBA MVP betting odds behind A’ja Wilson (above) and Breanna Stewart, and has the Fever as a top-five team to win the championship, according to most sportsbooks. That alone is notable because Indiana finished with a 13–27 mark in 2023—last place in the Eastern Conference—but still with more wins than the previous two seasons combined (5–31 in ’21 and 6–26 in ’22).

But what about the rest of the league? Clark’s ability to generate interest in Indiana, cities she visits on the road, and national TV broadcasts (if her draw from college carries over, which it appears to be doing) is a great thing for the WNBA. But there are 11 other teams in the league, and two more in San Francisco and Toronto on the way. To be sustainable, the WNBA will need to extend the Caitlin Clark effect to its other biggest stars, too.

Spreading the Love

Alongside Clark getting a reported $28 million endorsement deal with Nike that includes a signature shoe, Wilson—a two-time WNBA MVP and center for the defending champion Las Vegas Aces—has announced a similar sneaker deal, although terms are unknown. Clark and Wilson will join New York Liberty stars Sabrina Ionescu and Stewart as the only WNBA players with signature shoe deals. Ten other WNBA players have had signature shoes previously.

With that core of marketable stars in place, this WNBA will be a strong indicator of whether the league can quickly create more household names, particularly among rookies who are fresh in the minds of women’s March Madness viewers. No. 2 pick Cameron Brink will get to bask in the Los Angeles limelight with the Sparks, while Nos. 3 and 7 picks Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese look to help rebuild the Chicago Sky.

There should be some early results to check in on: Over the next seven days, Clark and the Fever will play games on ESPN2, Amazon Prime Video, ABC, and ESPN. There will also be six games not featuring Clark broadcast on cable or network TV channels. It won’t surprise anyone if fans are tuning in to the early days of Clark in Indiana, but the speed at which the league’s other stars gain notoriety will go a long way in determining the league’s continued growth and success.

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