Caitlin Clark Is Here. Can the Business of the W.N.B.A. Flourish?

The business of women’s basketball is booming. And the start of the 2024 W.N.B.A. season has many wondering if the sport is entering a new economic era.

The arrival of stars like Caitlin Clark, the former University of Iowa phenom who is now a rookie with the Indiana Fever, has boosted interest and ticket sales. All the league’s teams will fly charter for the first time this season, team sponsorships are growing, and marquee players are racking up endorsement deals. A new TV deal could fill its coffers and further elevate the league’s profile.

But there are still obstacles the league needs to overcome before attaining the kind of stature that other professional sports leagues have. The average W.N.B.A. salary is around $120,000, much lower than the N.B.A.’s, and the relatively low pay has traditionally prompted even the highest-earning players to play overseas during the league’s off-season in order to make extra money. The league has long had stars, but it has struggled to market their skills and personalities to a mass audience.

How the W.N.B.A. capitalizes on the current moment — and approaches its more prominent place in the media landscape — could have a significant effect on the league’s future.

A chance to capitalize.

More than 18 million people, a record, watched the University of South Carolina beat Clark and Iowa in the women’s N.C.A.A. tournament final this year, up from the roughly 10 million who watched the title game in 2023, which was also a record. This year, for the first time, more people watched the women’s final than the men’s.

Clark has had a unique effect. In her four years at Iowa, she broke the Division I scoring record for men and women and led the Hawkeyes to consecutive national title games. She also helped sell out arenas and boost TV ratings, and has become one of the most visible stars in all of college sports. According to a March poll conducted by Seton Hall University’s School of Business, Clark was the most well-known college basketball player in the country, with 44 percent of Americans saying they had heard of her.

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