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Women’s basketball is on the rise, and it’s baller

Iowas Caitlin Clark. Photo found on Instagram @iowawbb.
Iowa’s Caitlin Clark. Photo found on Instagram @iowawbb.

The 2024 NCAA Women’s Final Four Championship between the Iowa Hawkeyes and South Carolina Gamecocks reached 18.9 million views and broke the ESPN record for the most-viewed college basketball game ever (men’s or women’s). The previous year, the Championship game between the LSU Tigers and the Iowa Hawkeyes only reached 9.9 million ESPN viewers.

So, what happened in the past year that caused NCAA women’s basketball popularity to skyrocket?

If you haven’t heard the name Caitlin Clark in the past year, you may want to start taking notes because I am confident that she will remain as a crucial figure for many years in not only women’s basketball, but also the athletic world as a whole. Clark’s incredible talent has drawn a massive amount of attention to both herself, and women’s basketball as a whole.

Clark, class of 2024 guard at the University of Iowa, has broken impressive records and pioneered the popularity of NCAA women’s basketball. For example, on Feb. 15, 2024, Clark became the NCAA Division I all-time leading scorer across men’s and women’s basketball, surpassing a 54-year-long mark set by Pete Maravich. This is an extreme accomplishment, and her holding the record across both men’s and women’s basketball diminishes any critic’s invalidation of her skill.

Clark’s talent has been one of the main attractions that is increasing the viewership and coverage of NCAA women’s basketball. Regular season NCAA women’s basketball games have increased 37% since last year, and the 2024 season marked the most consumed regular season on record with 2.6 billion total minutes viewed across ESPN platforms.

UConn’s Paige Bueckers. Photo found on Instagram @uconnwbb.

However, Clark is just one of the many faces of NCAA women’s basketball right now. Alongside her are other extremely talented women that have also had a large impact on the viewership of NCAA women’s basketball: LSU forward Angel Reese, UConn forward Paige Bueckers, South Carolina center Camila Cardoso, Stanford center Cameron Brink, USC guard Juju Watkins and so many more incredible athletes are dominating the sport and making a huge impact.

LSU’s Angel Reese. Photo found on Istagram @lsuwbkb.

Clark and many of the other faces of college basketball have been drafted to the WNBA, and the rising stars will graduate from college at some point. This does pose a concern, since the WNBA viewership is extremely low compared to NCAA women’s basketball. However, due to the upcoming popularity of NCAA women’s basketball, it is hopeful that many fans will follow Clark and their other favorite stars to the professional league.

In fact, the WNBA draft, on April 15, 2024, became the most watched WNBA draft in history with 2.446 million viewers. This rise in attention may translate into more viewership of the WNBA, which will have positive benefits on the players in the league and the female audiences.

In the NBA world, Victor Wembanyama was the first pick of the 2023 draft, and signed a 4-year contract that will pay him over $50 million. However, switch back to WNBA, and Clark was the first pick of the 2024 draft, selected by the Indiana Fever, and her contract will only pay her around $338,000 across 4 years. This discrepancy in pay is a serious problem, as women’s talent is not reflected by their salary. Nevertheless, the increased viewership, attendance and attention to the WNBA will reflect positively on the player’s salaries. People must pour more money into the WNBA, in order to generate revenue that will go toward the player’s contracts.

We, as consumers, need to recognize these female athletes for their talents and support them in order for them to get the money they deserve.

More representation of women’s professional and collegiate sports does have a positive impact on the young viewers. More equal representation of athletics leads younger athletes, especially girls, to have more belief in their abilities and set their expectations for themselves higher.

This sudden and incredible spike in popularity of women’s basketball will have many implications on the gender norms in our society. Many aspects of American culture are centered around male sports: every Friday night in the fall is dedicated to the high school football games, major league baseball games are a summer tradition, and the Super Bowl is the most watched sporting event in America. It is time to reverse these norms, and women’s basketball has the potential to make its way up to be integrated into American society.

All in all, the popularity of NCAA women’s basketball is rising, due to Clark and other popular figures. I hope to see the recently drafted players thrive in the professional league, and I hope that NCAA women’s basketball doesn’t dip in popularity after this year. I truly believe that women’s basketball and these female athletes will be a notable topic of conversation in years to come. Try to tune into some WNBA games to watch fantastic players like Clark and Reese, and buy jerseys, tickets and merchandise in order to boost WNBA profit and get the athletes paid fairly. NCAA women’s basketball and the WNBA may have the ability to generate millions of dollars and heavy attention, and change the way the world views women’s sports.

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  • R

    RoseMay 2, 2024 at 3:01 pm

    Caitlin Clark….$338,000 over 4 years. Shatters men and women’s records in the history of college basketball…exceeding, Pete Maravich.
    How deplorable.
    How can it be.
    Such a massive decrepancy in pay.
    She has the highest ratings.
    Time for change.

  • M

    Melvin LewMay 2, 2024 at 1:21 pm

    The WNBA needs to start operating at a profit before these talented women can get paid what they “deserve”. They operate at a net loss of~10 million/year subsidized by the NBA.
    How can you pay them more without more revenue?

  • P

    Pablo GuzmanMay 2, 2024 at 11:36 am

    I’m all in woman athletes getting their recognition and fair pay