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  • Writer's pictureDavid Sack

Caitlin Clark and the Transformative Power of a Mega Talent

Sitting in a booth at a breakfast diner earlier this month with a friend who hasn’t watched enough college basketball this year, I turned to my left. There was a TV broadcasting the championship game of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Before I got one sentence into my campaign to get my friend invested, Caitlin Clark hoisted up a 3 pointer from the Big Ten logo from a spot far closer to the halfcourt line than the basket. Swish.

The stalwart Hawkeyes guard, who earlier this month broke “Pistol” Pete Maravich’s 54-year NCAA basketball career scoring record, sure is reliable. And with her ability to make contested shots from seemingly anywhere on the court, something she’s done since playing in a boys’ league while in elementary school, she’s taken women’s college basketball by storm and elevated the product entirely.

Interest in women’s sports may be at an all time high. A recent study found media coverage of women’s sports nearly tripled from just five years ago. Women’s college basketball and Caitlin Clark’s amazing college career are at the forefront of this soaring interest.

Last year’s national championship game, which saw Clark’s Hawkeyes take on LSU, which brought a star of its own in Angel Reese, drew an average of nearly 10 million viewers, per the NCAA.  A 103% increase from the 2022 national championship game, the viewership number came close to doubling the previous viewership record (5.7 million) for a women’s basketball game.

When the teams met for a rematch in this year’s Elite Eight on Monday, it was billed much like the sequel of a heavyweight fight: Clark vs. Reese II, and the TV ratings followed suit. The game broke the record for women’s college basketball viewership, as more than 12 million people tuned in to watch Iowa, led by Clark’s dominant 41 point, 12 assist, 7 rebound showing, knock out LSU, securing another trip to the Final 4. 

ESPN execs must be salivating at the ratings sure to come, already seeing the Clark Effect rub off on the other Elite 8 game held  Monday night. In that one, 6.7 million viewers tuned in to see another matchup worthy of a spot on the marquee, with Paige Bueckers’ UConn Huskies outlasting USC and their heralded freshman, JuJu Watkins. Bueckers and Clark will duke it out in the Final 4 on Friday, with the winner likely to take on undefeated South Carolina (sorry, NC State) in the National Championship game on Sunday, and more soaring TV ratings sure to come in.

The viewership numbers and Clark’s success are especially impressive when you consider that Clark, who hails from Des Moines, IA, shunned the sport’s traditional powerhouses and stayed home. Before Clark, a 5-star recruit coming out of high school set foot on campus, the Hawkeyes had made the Final Four just once. The school is still waiting on its elusive first National Championship.

And Clark’s impact hasn’t been confined to the madness of March, either. An overtime loss at Ohio State earlier this season averaged 1.93 million viewers across TV and streaming, peaking at 3.9 million during overtime. It was the most-watched regular season women’s basketball game on any network since 2010, per the NCAA.

Fans haven’t just watched on TV either. They’ve also been filling the stands. While comprehensive attendance numbers have yet to be released for the current 2023-24 season, the total attendance record for Division I women’s basketball was broken in the 2022-23 season at 8,784,401, which surpassed the previous record by more than 150,000, per the NCAA.

Clark announced in February that this, her fourth year of college basketball, would be her last. She declared for the upcoming WNBA Draft, opting to forgo the extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted all athletes who had a season affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

On the heels of driving skyrocketing interest not only in her team, but her entire sport, she’ll look to do the same at the next level. If she’s able to take the league by storm in the same way, there’s no telling how high the WNBA’s attendance and viewership numbers will rise.


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