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Caitlin Clark and Fever frenzy hit the WNBA, boosting ticket prices and jersey sales

Caitlin Clark, pictured autographing sneakers before the WNBA draft last Monday, is helping drive demand for the league's ticket sales and TV coverage.
Adam Hunger
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AP
Caitlin Clark, pictured autographing sneakers before the WNBA draft last Monday, is helping drive demand for the league's ticket sales and TV coverage.

Caitlin Clark won't make her WNBA debut until May 3, when the Indiana Fever — which selected her as the first overall draft pick last week — play their first preseason game in Texas.

But Clark is already making an outsized impact on the league, which she joins as the all-time leading scorer in college basketball history.

Her dominance is credited with bringing more attention to the Iowa Hawkeyes and women's basketball writ large — and the "Caitlin Clark Effect" seems poised to continue at the professional level, if early numbers are any indication.

"When Caitlin Clark declared for the WNBA draft, we instantly saw the Indiana Fever's average ticket price double," Laura Correnti, founder and CEO of Deep Blue Sports + Entertainment, told Morning Edition earlier this month.

"We're also hearing from some of the different teams across the WNBA that they are also seeing bumps in ticket sales and interest in terms of near sellout for when Caitlin Clark comes to town."

Clark's Fever jersey sold out in most sizes on the Fanatics website within an hour of her being selected in Monday's draft, in what the retailer says is now the top-selling jersey for any draft pick ever.

And the WNBA plans to show 36 of the Fever's 40 regular season games on its national broadcast and streaming partners, compared to 22 last year, when it finished 10th of 12 teams. It hasn't had a winning season since 2015.

Demand to see Clark in action has sent ticket prices skyrocketing and prompted teams in several cities to move their games to bigger venues.

Last week, the Washington Mystics announced that they will be relocating their June 7 game against the Indiana Fever from their 4,200-seat home stadium in D.C. to the 20,000 plus-capacity Capital One Arena, citing "unprecedented demand."

It's the second team to announce such a move in anticipation of Fever frenzy. The Las Vegas Aces have said they will move their July 2 game against Indiana from Michelob Ultra Arena to T-Mobile Arena to accommodate some 8,000 additional fans.

And in Chicago — where the Sky picked up some high draft picks including Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso — fans are petitioning the team to relocate their June and August games against the Fever from the Wintrust Arena to the larger United Center.

"Larger quantities of less expensive seats would allow both Caitlin Clark fans and Chicago Sky fans to enjoy a great game at the incredible United Center," reads the online petition, which had over 700 signatures as of Monday morning.

The Indiana Fever team store in Indianapolis displays Caitlin Clark merchandise. Her official jersey has sold out from many online retailers.
Michael Conroy / AP
/
AP
The Indiana Fever team store in Indianapolis displays Caitlin Clark merchandise. Her official jersey has sold out from many online retailers.

The Indiana Fever accounts for all of the WNBA's top 10 most expensive regular season games this year, according to data from the ticket site Gametime reported by Forbes.

It says the most expensive WNBA game on the secondary market is Indiana's July 14 game against the Minnesota Lynx, with a median ticket price of $615. The Fever's June games against the Chicago Sky ($600) and Washington Mystics ($530) also made the list.

Tickets to the Fever's first preseason game, against the Dallas Wings in Arlington, Texas, ranged from $110 to $1,100. CEO Greg Bibb told WFAA that the Wings scheduled that game well before the draft, anticipating Clark would enter and be picked first.

"We have seen incremental gains in business growth every year since 2020, and what's happened in the NCAA has been an accelerant to that growth," Bibb told the outlet. "We structured our ticket sales accordingly and waited later in the calendar year to go on sale with them to create a pent-up demand post-draft."

Resale prices for Fever tickets are going up too, with Vivid Seats reporting they have nearly tripled since last season.

Clark's financial boost to the WNBA has amplified the spotlight on its longstanding pay gap with the NBA. That gap is the result of the leagues' differences in revenue, season length and union contracts, among other factors.

As a rookie, Clark's base salary will be $76,535 this year and just over $338,000 for four years — far lower than that of her male counterparts and at least some NBA mascots.

In contrast, Victor Wembanyama, the 2023 first-round draft pick in the NBA, started on the San Antonio Spurs with a base salary of over $12 million, as part of a four-year contract exceeding $55 million.

That disparity has drawn renewed attention and outrage from many viewers. Even President Biden weighed in, tweeting last week that "right now we're seeing that even if you're the best, women are not paid their fair share."

But Clark — whose name, image and likeness are valued at over $3 million — is expected to make money in other ways, including endorsement deals with companies including State Farm and Gatorade. And The Athletic reported last week that Clark is nearing a deal with Nike worth over $20 million that includes a signature shoe.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Clark holds up her Fever jersey after a Wednesday press conference in Indianapolis.
Darron Cummings / AP
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AP
Clark holds up her Fever jersey after a Wednesday press conference in Indianapolis.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.