Caitlin Clark signing autographs at a "Full Court Press" premiere. Caitlin Clark signing autographs at a “Full Court Press” premiere. (Aaron Doster/ESPN Images.)

Caitlin Clark took women’s collegiate basketball by storm the past two years, playfully coined “Caitlin Clark effect” resulting in record-breaking numbers in viewership and attendance throughout the 2024 season.

The Iowa Hawkeyes team sold out their home games for the entire 2024 season and schools that hosted Iowa saw an increase in attendance of over 150% compared to their other home games on average.

ESPN assigned Holly Rowe to Iowa City for the first two rounds of the tournament to cover Clark. The 2024 NCAA women’s March Madness tournament set records for not only attendance, but viewership, with the championship game reaching 18.7 million viewers, and 24 million during its peak.

Additionally, during the entire 2024 season, the Iowa Women’s Basketball team generated 533 million social media impressions, 14.9 million engagements, and $14.2 million in social value.

During the 2024 season, Clark received a SportsCenter feature titled “How Caitlin Clark is inspiring a new generation” and ESPN produced a special edition magazine with 96 pages dedicated to her journey in collegiate basketball that dropped on March 29. Clark and LeBron James were the most searched athletes from February to March. Recently, Howard Megdal, a prominent women’s sports voice announced a new book exploring Clark and Iowa women’s basketball legacy.

Clark also garnered more than 162,000 media stories during the NCAA tournament from March 20 to April 9, resulting in more than 177 billion media impressions. During the 2024 tournament, it was hard to watch a game without seeing her face in a Gatorade, State Farm, Xfinity, or Nike ad demonstrating her lucrative NIL deals but also her appeal and following that these brands and companies were trying to capture. Most recently, Clark took the basketball world by storm when she signed an eight-figure deal with Nike for her own signature shoe before she even played her first preseason game in the WNBA.

This past weekend Clark received even further attention alongside Kamilla Cardoso (formerly the University of South Carolina, now rookie class with the WNBA Chicago Sky), and Kiki Rice (UCLA), as they were featured in ESPN+ four-part docuseries “Full Court Press” produced by Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions where Clark was an executive producer.

Despite the media attention and frenzy surrounding Clark over her collegiate career, especially the past two years with the NCAA passing of NIL legislation, the question many are asking about the “Caitlin Clark Effect” and the WNBA is will this momentum last?

In short, yes.

The Caitlin Clark Effect is in full swing for the WNBA even before she stepped foot on the court in a regular season game.

Clark, the overall number one pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft, captivated an audience of over two million and brought an enormous buzz and following with her to the WNBA that has led to increased media coverage surrounding the start of the WNBA season. The WNBA announced in late April that 36 out of the 40 Indiana Fever games would be aired on the WNBA league pass and its streaming partners: NBATV, ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ION, Prime Video, and CBS Sports Network.

Fans living in Indianapolis and the surrounding local areas will see broadcasts on the region’s NBC affiliate WTHR,  MeTV (WALV), and 11 other local affiliates with a deal struck by Tegna resulting in 4.6 million homes having the opportunity to watch Clark for free in 17 games this season including in her home market in Iowa. Recently, Disney + announced they would stream Clark’s official WNBA debut on Tuesday, May 14.

We have already seen big changes to the league in general this year with the announcement of the Golden State franchise coming in 2025 and Toronto in 2026, creating a 14-team league for the first time in WNBA history.

In the short amount of time that she has entered the league, many of these factors that have long been challenges that veteran players and the WNBPA have asked for are receiving crucial attention. Again, with Caitlin Clark in the league, the level of attention these issues are receiving is unprecedented.

For example, in Clark’s first pre-season game on Thursday, May 9 there is footage of her being followed through the airport raising public concern for the safety of the players in public airports and spaces. This is not a new encounter for women in the league, as last season a YouTuber confronted Brittney Griner, center for the Phoenix Mercury. What makes this different is that this generation of rookies has larger individual and public followings than any players before them. Thus, the league announced last week that they are going to partner with Delta Airlines over the next two seasons for charter flights for their players.

Viewership is also up overall in the league and with the addition of stars like Clark and Angel Reese, these numbers are expected to continue to rise. Since the “Wubble year” in 2020, the ratings for the WNBA have steadily increased by between 21-49% over the past four seasons.

Last year, the WNBA saw its most-watched regular season in 21 years spotlighting the championship run of the Las Vegas Aces and the match-up between the Aces and the New York Liberty in the WNBA finals which saw peak viewership of 1.2 million viewers during Game 4 of the series. In February, Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors took on Sabrina Ionescu in a 3-Point challenge during the State Farm All-Star Night and it garnered the most viewers in four years, particularly, during their challenge, peaking with 5.4 million viewers.

This was all done without Clark, Reese, and the other rookies in the 2024 class. It isn’t a reach to state that the viewership ratings this year will increase by similar if not exponential numbers compared to the 2023 regular season.

Why wouldn’t there be an expectation this year to shatter the WNBA’s viewership record once again? Since the addition of Clark and the 2024 rookie class, we have already seen the league making changes to put more games on television than ever before. More games on TV allow higher viewership but also increased revenue for the league. The league in 2019 made around $102 million in revenue, in 2023 the league made $200 million, and in 2023 they raised $75 million from private investors on a billion-dollar valuation. There is no reason to believe this number won’t continue to skyrocket with the influence of the Clark effect.

Clark also won’t be the only household name we hear about in the next few years. With the addition of NIL changes, it allows female athletes, especially women’s collegiate basketball players, to be more visible than ever. With female college athletes continuing to push engagement numbers at a higher rate than their male counterparts, brands, and the public will continue to know the future W stars’ names early and often—leading to increased and consistent attention on the league.

About Allison Smith

Dr. Allison Smith is a former Division I and II softball student athlete who is now an assistant professor of sport administration who studies and writes about the current state of women in sport. Outside of writing about women in sport, Allison has taught sport management and marketing courses for over ten years at various undergraduate and graduate programs. Follow Allison on Twitter @allisonbsmith15.