Basketball-'Unlike anyone we've seen': WNBA seizes Clark spotlight


Apr 7, 2024; Cleveland, OH, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark (22) is introduced during the 2024 NCAA Tournament Women's Final Four championship game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) will look to harness record-smashing sharpshooter Caitlin Clark's super-sized star power when she joins the professional ranks on Monday.

Clark is expected to go first overall in the WNBA Draft to the Indiana Fever after more than 18 million tuned in for her final college game this week, where South Carolina stayed undefeated to deny her Iowa team the NCAA title.

It was the most-watched basketball game of any kind in the U.S. since 2019 - besting the NBA - in what was widely seen as a landmark moment for women's sports.

"We have a star coming into this draft kind of unlike anyone we've seen," Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Rebecca Lobo told reporters.

"We haven't seen a player drive ticket sales like this, we haven't seen a player drive ratings like this... In terms of attention, we've never, ever, ever seen anything like this."

Clark became appointment viewing with her astonishing logo threes and uncanny no-look passing ability, as she broke Pete Maravich's all-time NCAA scoring record this season.

She joins a WNBA on the rise, after its most-watched season in more than two decades, with viewership across networks ABC, ESPN networks and CBS averaging 505,000, thanks in part to a rivalry between "superteams" Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty.

"As much as Caitlin is propelling women's basketball, women's basketball is also propelling Caitlin because it's having a moment," said La Quita Frederick, the faculty director of Sports Industry Management at Georgetown University.

"What she is doing is she's brought eyes that weren't otherwise there," she added. "Women were already excelling at the game... but the eyes weren't there."

The WNBA named her presumed new home, the Indiana Fever, a team of "significant focus" on the broadcast calendar, with 36 of its 40 contests to be nationally televised, the most of any team in the league.

And while the Fever have not enjoyed a winning season since 2015, overall sales for the team were up more than 13 times on ticket resale platform StubHub as of Wednesday, compared to the same time last year.

The average price of tickets sold for the team was up 70%.

WNBA audiences are unlikely to reach the lofty levels of the NCAA TV numbers seen during Clark's reign when she joins the league, said Conrad Wiacek, head of sport analysis at research firm GlobalData, but he expects Clark to have a generational impact on the league.

"Girls will grow up wanting to be her," he told Reuters. "What I think Caitlin Clark will do is bring attention to the league... Especially if she is sort of marketed correctly."

(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York)

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