General view as WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert presents the 2024 WNBA Draft at Brooklyn Academy of Music. Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

When the viewership numbers rolled in for the national title game between Iowa and South Carolina, reactions varied from awe to affirmation.

Ratings were expected to be big. But 18.9 million? A peak at 24.1 million? It was the most-watched women’s college basketball game, ever. Not to mention the most-watched basketball game in five years for ESPN.

Needless to say, minds were blown all over the basketball world (even though the dynamite wick on women’s basketball had been lit years ago and has been burning rapidly towards an explosion). Once the dust settled and women’s college basketball season came to a close, attention turned to the 2024 WNBA Draft.

ESPN has enjoyed a steady increase in ratings for the past few years as viewership grew 42 percent between 2022 and 2023. Last year’s draft, featuring Aliyah Boston as the No. 1 pick, drew 572,000 viewers. The expectation for this year’s event to supersede those numbers (by a lot) was extremely high. Understandably so.

To say the 2024 WNBA Draft lived up to those expectations would be an understatement. It drew a whopping 2.4 million viewers. That’s a 300 percent increase over last year. The draft’s audience was even larger than the 2023 WNBA Finals, which averaged 728,000 viewers.

Not since Diana Taurasi was taken No. 1 overall by the Phoenix Mercury in 2004 was the spotlight as bright and the attention so keenly focused on the WNBA Draft. At the time, Taurasi was considered the best player in the country. She led the UConn Huskies to three national championships in a row and earned National Player of the Year honors in 2003 and 2004. At just over 600,000 viewers, it was the most-watched draft in WNBA history.

Until now.

Like Taurasi 20 years ago, Caitlin Clark received top billing for the event. She was the consensus No. 1 overall pick in every single mock draft, and the Indiana Fever had been toying with fans on social media with memes and posts ever since Clark announced she was going pro. Clark, as she said during the telecast, “earned it” after leading the nation in both points (31.6) and assists (8.9) per game. She plays in a way we’ve never seen before in the women’s game. The shots. The assists. The court vision. The confidence. Denying her talent and marketability would be silly.

It makes sense why ESPN leaned in.

Alongside Clark, the 2024 draft class ushered in a new era by smashing ratings, attracting new fans to the WNBA, and building never-before-seen anticipation for the upcoming season.

Every single player at the draft has more style and swag than most of us could ever hope to have in a lifetime. The looks and outfits were flawless, and showcased each player’s personality. From Angel Reese’s silver-sparkly hooded dress to Dyaisha Fair’s black suit and bright red bowtie. The orange carpet was vibrant and alive with anticipation.

While previous WNBA Drafts have felt overproduced, forced, and flat (think Golden Globe ceremonies with awkward moments and unfunny quips), this draft’s vibe was completely different. Longtime WNBA commentators Rebecca Lobo and Ryan Ruocco, paired with Andraya Carter (who always leaves me feeling smarter about basketball than I probably am), created a perfect trio. They gave just enough info before each pick and kept the flow moving at a palpable pace.

Once the draft picks were announced and hugged their family members, they hit the stage for a quick photo op with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, then made their way over to Holly Rowe for a snippet of conversation. In the past, these conversations have dragged on too long, focused on unnecessary questions about a player’s trials and tribulations, leaving unease in their wake during what should be a celebratory moment. This time, the questions were shorter, balanced, and poignant (without going overboard).

The most memorable moments, however, were the ones that arose organically.

Kamilla Cordoso swallowed Dawn Staley in such a warm hug that it could have melted the coldest of hearts.

Jacy Sheldon’s sister, Emmy, sharing the spotlight.

And then there was Kate Martin, who got drafted by the Las Vegas Aces when she was there to support Clark. Lobo told the audience that Becky Hammon would draft Fair if the 5-foot-5 point guard was still available at No. 16, and it happened a second later.

Paige Bueckers filmed everything on her phone as she looked on from the audience, reveling in her teammate’s success like a proud parent.

Cameron Brink shouted out her godbrother Steph Curry and complimented the entire draft class in the process.

Rickea Jackson was so natural on the mic, she could have hosted the entire show.

I could go on. But considering the ratings, everyone already knows what I’m talking about.

The 2024 WNBA Draft did what ESPN set out to do — attract an audience, keep viewers engaged and informed, make those at home feel part of the event, and leave them wanting more. It was the perfect blend of star power, talent, and personalities.

While the name on the marquee may have belonged to Clark, it was the entire cast of characters that stole the show.

About Lyndsey D'Arcangelo

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a seasoned sports writer, author and women’s sports advocate. She previously wrote about women’s basketball for The Athletic and is the co-author of Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.