Home The Caitlin Clark Effect is real: And yet WNBA players are resentful of the attention

The Caitlin Clark Effect is real: And yet WNBA players are resentful of the attention

Chris Graham
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WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, talking in 2022 about a $75 million investment in the league from outside investors, said the league’s biggest problem was “exposure.”

“It’s like pushing a boulder up a hill,” Englebert said.

The WNBA, in 2023, hit the $200 million mark in revenues for the first time, doubling its output from where it had been in 2019, but for perspective, the NBA generates more than $10 billion annually – billion, with a b-, 50 times what the women’s league brings in.

There was a time when the NBA was in a position similar to where the WNBA is now. Does anybody else remember when the NBA Finals were broadcast on tape delay, meaning, after the late local news, beginning at 11:30 p.m. ET?

I sleptwalk through a little league game on a Saturday morning because I was up until 2 a.m. watching a Lakers-76ers Finals game.

The star of that Lakers team was a rookie named Magic Johnson.

The Rookie of the Year that season was a guy named Larry Bird.

There would only be one more NBA Finals broadcast on tape delay after that one in 1980.

The WNBA, more than that $75 million investment two years ago, needed, as the NBA did in the late 1970s into the early 1980s, “exposure,” which it’s getting from the debut of a rookie in Caitlin Clark who is bringing in tons of eyeballs to the product.

Sports Illustrated media writer Jimmy Traina noted in a tweet this week the attendance at two of Clark’s games with her Indiana Fever team averaged 17,337 fans, as the other seven WNBA games played last weekend averaged 7,008.

Which, hey, even that 7,008 for the other games is a step forward – last season, the WNBA averaged 6,615 fans per game.

League-wide, average attendance is up 39.9 percent, but let’s be clear here.

Despite what another 2024 rookie, Angel Reese, has had to say on the topic – “The reason why we’re watching women’s basketball is not just because of one person, it’s because of me, too, I want y’all to realize that” – it’s because of one person.

The Fever have the league’s second-worst record, at 2-9, but they are, by an order of magnitude, the WNBA’s biggest draw, averaging a league-best 16,571 fans at home and a league-best 15,315 fans on the road.

Doing some quick math, if you take the Clark-Fever games out of the mix, the other WNBA games this season are averaging 7,247 fans per game, an increase of 9.6 percent, so, still a good bump, but, seriously.

That’s still pushing the boulder up the hill.

The Caitlin Clark Effect is Magic Johnson and Larry Bird getting eyeballs on the product.

Which is why it’s so odd that so many WNBA players seem so resentful of Clark.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].