Amid record audiences/surging ticket prices, Caitlin Clark brings ‘more visibility’ to women’s basketball

George Ramsay, CNN | 4/3/2024, 8:10 a.m.
At the start of her college basketball career, right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, Caitlin Clark grew accustomed …

At the start of her college basketball career, right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, Caitlin Clark grew accustomed to playing at empty venues.

Back then, thousands of cardboard cutouts were brought in to fill the spare seats in stadiums during March Madness, including an oversized image of Clark’s dog, Bella.

What a difference three years makes. Now, the superstar guard is playing in front of sold-out arenas at this year’s women’s NCAA tournament, and ticket prices have surged ever since her Iowa Hawkeyes defeated the LSU Tigers to book a spot in the Final Four.

On Tuesday, the average listing price for the all-day session of the women’s Final Four in Cleveland was $2,642.24, according to TicketIQ, with the get-in price listed at $901. The most expensive ticket for Friday’s games is $11,166, while the cheapest tickets jumped 118% after Iowa beat LSU, though the high demand is partly driven by Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse having a capacity of 19,500.

“Caitlin Clark is someone that has definitely made such a great impact on our game,” NC State head coach Wes Moore said on Tuesday. “I bet ticket prices for the Final Four doubled last night. If you had some at face value, they might be a lot more valuable.”

The 22-year-old Clark, the all-time scoring leader in men’s and women’s NCAA Division I history, is clearly a generational talent and her three-point shooting provides box-office entertainment.

Iowa’s Elite Eight win against LSU, a repeat of last year’s championship game, drew an audience of 12.3 million, according to ESPN, with the audience peaking at 16.1 million viewers, setting the all-time ratings record for a women’s college basketball game.

Ahead of Iowa’s Final Four game against the No. 3 UConn Huskies, Hawkeyes head coach Lisa Bluder reflected on Clark’s sweeping impact across the women’s game, both on and off the basketball court.

“I think that when people see Caitlin in national commercials, that adds to that star power, right?” said Bluder. “It’s more credibility. It’s more visibility. It just continues to add to the allure of a great basketball player.”

Clark’s dominance has coincided with a booming interesting in women’s college basketball, evident long before this year’s March Madness got underway. Regular season games have averaged an audience of 476,000 on ESPN platforms, a viewership increase of 37%.

Among other factors, this is due to improved TV coverage, with women’s college games now shown on major networks and in optimal time slots, and the fact that young female athletes have used the platform of Name, Image and Likeness, or NIL, to earn income from sponsorships.

“I think the rise has happened largely due to getting more media coverage,” said Bluder. “I mean, when nobody knows about you, it’s hard to get fan support, it’s hard to get enthusiasm behind your program.

“But because we are on national television now, because we are in the spotlight more as a sport, as women’s basketball, people are talking about it. People are recognizing how good of a game it is. People get to know these stars.”

Clark is the projected No. 1 pick for this month’s WNBA draft, but before then will be looking to win Iowa’s first national championship in basketball having fallen short against LSU last year.

She has already amassed 1,183 points this season at an average of 32 per game and dropped 41 points, seven rebounds and 12 assists against LSU in the Elite Eight on Monday.

Which all begs the question: how does an opposing team stop Caitlin Clark?

“We don’t” was UConn head coach Geno Auriemma’s answer. “We don’t plan on stopping her because I tried calling all the other coaches that have stopped her, and none of them answer the phone.

“So we’re going to have to find a different way to win than stopping Caitlin Clark.”