Home Sports WNBA feeling ‘Caitlin Clark effect’ as season tips off

WNBA feeling ‘Caitlin Clark effect’ as season tips off


Caitlin Clark Indiana Fever WNBA

Indiana Fever’s Caitlin Clark dribbles during the second half of an WNBA preseason basketball game against the Atlanta Dream, Thursday, May 9, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

A new era for women’s basketball gets under way on Tuesday when Caitlin Clark makes her full professional debut for the Indiana Fever as the new WNBA season tips off.

After a college career which rewrote the record books and shattered attendance and television viewing records, No.1 draft pick Clark will line up for Indiana’s season-opening road game against the Connecticut Sun.

Anticipation for Clark’s regular season debut has already started to mirror the excitement which accompanied her collegiate career, when sell-out crowds flocked to Iowa Hawkeyes games to catch a glimpse of a generational talent.

READ: Caitlin Clark pleased after first WNBA training camp practice

Tuesday’s game at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, has already sold out, with courtside seats being offered for sale on secondary markets for as much as $4,262 each.

“This is one of the biggest games in WNBA history,” said Jeff Hamilton, the general manager of the Mohegan Sun resort complex. “Our arena is sold out, it’s our most popular game, even more popular than when we played in the finals.”

Evidence of the Clark phenomenon has already been seen in the pre-season.

More than 13,000 fans packed into the Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis to watch her first home game for the Fever last Thursday, eclipsing the previous record attendance for a pre-season game of just over 9,000, set 24 years ago.

“This is a pre-season game on a Thursday night and there’s 13,000 people,” Clark said after contributing 12 points in an 83-80 victory over the Atlanta Dream.

“That just shows you what it’s going to be like for us all season. It’s going to help us,” added Clark, who also scored 21 points in her other pre-season appearance against Dallas on May 3.

Tuesday’s game will be broadcast nationwide on ESPN, with the US sports network pledging in a press release last week to “utilize a WNBA Finals-level production setup” for the game.

‘It’s gonna be loud’

Clark is relishing the chance to shine under the national spotlight as fans tune in to see whether the scoring touch that saw her break Pete Maravich’s 54-year-old all-time college basketball points record will translate to the more demanding professional game.

“Pre-season games you’re trying to be as competitive as possible but you’re still trying to figure it out, try different lineups,” Clark said. “So getting out there for the first time is really exciting and it will be super special.

“This is what you’ve worked for and dreamed of. Now you get to put your jersey on for the first real time and go out there and play.

READ: Caitlin Clark taken No. 1 in WNBA draft by Indiana Fever

“We get to play on the biggest stage, there’s gonna be a lot of people there, it’s gonna be loud.

“But you only play your first WNBA game once. I think I just want to enjoy it. It’s gonna be competitive. They’re really good, so you’ve gotta prep the right way, too. More than anything, we’re ready for the challenge.”

Tuesday’s sell-out is a far cry from her college debut. Asked what she remembered about her first game for Iowa, she replied: “No one was there.”

While Indiana stand to gain the most tangible commercial benefits from Clark’s arrival this season, teams across the entire league will enjoy a financial boost, with some already switching home games involving Indiana to bigger arenas to ensure more lucrative box office returns.

“I think the anticipation and all the enthusiasm going into the season has really been great for the women’s game and is long overdue,” Connecticut Sun general manager Darius Taylor said.

WNBA players this season, meanwhile, are to benefit from upgraded travel. For the first time, the league will fly players around the nation on charter flights rather than commercial passenger jets, a clear sign of the league’s growing financial clout.

“It just makes life a lot easier for a lot of people, but also it’s just something that a lot of people have deserved for years and years now,” Clark said.

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“So, I’m just very fortunate to come to this league and have that opportunity the first year I’m here.”

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