The Caitlin Clark Effect: How the Iowa Star is Changing Women’s Sports

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Almost everyone who tuned into March Madness recently has seen Caitlin Clark. The University of Iowa guard has been breaking records throughout her career, including the all-time NCAA scoring record, previously held by Pete Maravich of Louisiana State University, according to AP News, and the Jersey Mike’s Naismith Player of the Year Award in 2023 and 2024. Off the court, Clark has done many name, image and likeness deals, accumulating an annual NIL value of $3.1 million, according to social network website ON3 Elite. Clark’s value to the game of basketball spans well off the court, as she has uplifted women in sports in what is known as the “Caitlin Clark Effect.” 

According to an article from the Des Moines Register, the “Caitlin Clark Effect” refers to the drastic increase in game ticket sales and revenue for the University of Iowa and the other universities she travels to. The article said season tickets for the Hawkeyes had sold out by August when the women’s basketball season did not tip off until November. According to Common Sense Institute, Clark’s economic boost to the University of Iowa could hypothetically pay for between 1,306 to 4,767 students’ tuition. Her economic impact is not only limited to Iowa—according to CBS, her influence helped sell out the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament, more than doubling the attendance for the previous year. According to The New York Times, Clark’s attendance at Iowa’s away games averaged 13,000 fans which is more than double the attendance for non-Iowa games at the same universities. I have personally seen Clark’s effect on game attendance when I went to the Lady Hawkeye’s game against Indiana University in Bloomington. My parents and I arrived at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall four and a half hours before the game tipped off, and the line of people waiting was astounding—we could not even see the end of it from where we stood.

While of course Clark’s impact on the game is substantial, it is important to note the other women who have and are continuing to shape the world of women in sports. Texas Christian University Center Sedona Prince, who played for the University of Oregon at the time, made a post on TikTok in 2021 highlighting the inequalities in the food, workout equipment and practice facilities for the men and women as they prepare for and play in the NCAA Tournament. This sparked national conversation surrounding the equality in the men’s and women’s tournament. The following year, the NCAA Women’s Tournament was allowed to use the “March Madness” branding for their tournament which they had never been able to do before, according to The Athletic. This season, athletes such as the University of Southern California’s Juju Watkins and Notre Dame’s Hannah Hidalgo, two outstanding freshmen who were both named to the Associated Press’ All-American First Team along with Clark, have been able to rise to fame. Thanks to Clark, who has brought such a bright spotlight on women’s basketball, new players and new generations of women will be able to have the spotlight in sports.

The Caitlin Clark Effect will not stop once she leaves college basketball. Clark announced her decision to declare for the WNBA on Feb. 29. The first pick in the 2024 Draft goes to the Indiana Fever which has seen dramatic increases in ticket sales and prices since Clark’s announcement. The average price of a ticket to a Fever game is now $144, which is up 133% from last year, according to The Gist. The get-in price for the Fever’s home opener against the New York Liberty on May 16 is $487, and Fever fans are ready to travel an average of 314 miles to see the Indiana Fever this season, according to The Gist. Additionally, tickets for the draft in Brooklyn, N.Y. sold out within 15 minutes, according to the WNBA. While of course this is not solely due to Clark, the people she has won over into the world of basketball have become invested in women and the WNBA. As a Fever fan, I am not looking forward to heightened ticket prices, but as someone who enjoys women’s basketball, I am thrilled to see the engagement and excitement for Clark’s debut in the WNBA and for women’s sports in general.

Photo by Allison Cook A mural of Caitlin Clark is on the side of a building in Indianapolis. Artist Kwazar Martin painted the portrait as Clark is expected to be drafted by the WNBA’s Indiana Fever.

In addition to money, Clark has also helped set viewership records. The Hawkeye’s second-round game against West Virginia averaged 4.9 million viewers on ESPN, according to The Athletic, setting the record for the largest television audience for a game in the women’s NCAA tournament prior to the Final Four. Last year’s championship game, where Clark and the Hawkeyes fell to the LSU Tigers, reached 9.9 million viewers, shattering the previous record for the championship game set in 2002, according to Sports Pro Media. This season, women’s basketball games averaged more viewers than men’s basketball games on FOX, according to Sportico. Not only is Clark drawing viewers and fans to herself, she is also getting people invested in women’s basketball as a whole. These ratings do not solely reflect Clark’s games, meaning that people are by and large watching more women’s basketball than men’s, which is an unprecedented and incredible feat.

Clark has also broken into the world of men’s basketball. According to Bleacher Report, Big3 made a $5 million offer to her on March 27 to play in ten games during their season. Big3 is a men’s three-on-three league that plays from June through August, which would only interfere with two WNBA games if Clark chooses to accept this offer. According to American rapper and entertainer Ice Cube, who owns the league, the organization made this offer to Clark because she is a tremendous athlete and they believe this could be another barrier to women in sports Clark could break down. Ice Cube said women athletes should not have to play abroad during the offseason to make money and continue playing basketball which many WNBA players do, and this opportunity would mean Clark could make more money while continuing to play in the United States. This offer is the first of its kind, and is yet another testament to the influence of Clark and how she is creating new opportunities for women moving forward. 

Clark’s impact can also be seen in the fans that attend Iowa games. At every game, many fans bring posters showing their support for either team. This is not a new thing, but Clark’s influence can be seen through them. In an Instagram post from @femalequotient, there is an image of a tweet saying “Look at all the young boys dying for a Caitlin Clark autograph” and there are several young fans holding posters for her to autograph posters and shirts. I think it is incredibly profound that young people are so excited to see Clark play, and even more special that young boys are just as excited to see her as they may be for their favorite NBA players. Even more special to me are the posters that little girls hold that say they want to be like Clark. It is so important for girls to have positive role models and people to look up to, and Clark is that for many young fans. In a Facebook post from the University of Iowa, a young girl holds up a sign that says “You are my hero, Caitlin Clark.” Clark has given these girls a person to look up to in the world of sports, and given them hope to pursue their dreams in sports. 

While there are millions of fans of Clark, she has her critics, as well. One of the most common complaints that I have seen is that she whines and flops too much during games. While I agree with her dad, who yelled at Caitlin during Iowa’s NCAA Tournament opener against Holy Cross for her to stop talking to the referees, I think some of the criticisms are unfounded. In basketball today, men’s and women’s, professional and collegiate, flopping, which is when players overreact to contact during the game in order to convince the referee they have been fouled, has become a major part of the game. Additionally, it seems like there are many men who do the same things during their games, and rarely receive the kind of backlash Clark gets—the men are often called passionate and fierce, while she is criticized. I do not think that any player should be deemed as lesser or overdramatic for flopping because they are doing what they can to sell a foul to the referees and advance the game in their favor. Regardless of the opinions on Clark’s dramatics on the court, they should not take away from her impact on the game. 

Overall, I do not think many people are confused about Clark’s impact on women in sports. She has produced thousands of dollars for the University of Iowa as well as for herself through NIL, turned into a role model for young girls who want to pursue sports at the collegiate level, and set numerous scoring, viewership and attendance records. The WNBA Draft takes place on April 15, and, hopefully, we will be seeing Clark play in Indianapolis this summer.

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