The Caitlin Clark effect on women’s sports

When I began covering sports as a freshman at Arizona State University, I started at the entry-level writing about women’s volleyball, softball and basketball. At that time, very few paid attention to those teams unless you were an avid Sun Devil fan or knew a player on the team.

In 2024, everyone is tuning into women’s basketball as much or more than men’s because of a few generational players in college. However, no athlete has taken over the spotlight quite like Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark.

People began debating Clark as an all-time college great after breaking records like single-season made three-pointers, becoming the all-time leading scorer in Division 1 history and several others.

My father and I always have the generational debate between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. However, we had our first women’s debate last week between Clark and New York Liberty basketball player Sabrina Ionescu. Afterward, it proved everybody has begun tuning in to watch these rising college stars turn the tide in women’s sports.

Recently, Iowa faced defending national champions LSU in the Elite Eight. When the two teams faced April 1, the game averaged 12.3 million viewers on ESPN, outdrawing nearly every NBA Finals game, the final game of the World Series and a handful of NFL games.

My father and I even joined the trend of betting on what became the biggest betting event ever for women’s sports. We both chose Iowa to win the NCAA Championship before the game began and rooted for the Hawkeyes.

Although there is not a certain number of betters, it is safe to say millions followed the game with an incentive. In addition, UConn against USC in the other NCAA women’s regional semifinal was the third-highest of the day for sportsbooks.

Plus, Clark and others have taken over the sports card industry. Before Clark reached the limelight, tennis legend Serena Williams held six of the top 10 highest-sold cards in women’s sports, including an all-time high of $266,400 for the 2003 NetPro International Series Apparel Autograph.

Yet, the 2022 Bowman University Superfractor Caitlin Clark Rookie card sold for $78,000, ranking as the fourth-highest sold card in women’s history. Besides Clark, Connecticut’s Paige Bueckers cards sell for around $200, USC freshman Juju Watkins sells for around $150, and Ionescu sells for around $50.

With a few freshmen on the rise across the country, women’s basketball is here to stay. Although other players have impacted women’s sports, it is safe to say Clark is why women’s sports have turned from entry-level jobs into dream careers.