The Maryland womens basketball team plays Penn State at their Red Rush game. In the past, it has been a struggle for the team to sell tickets, but because of the rise in womens sports, they successfully sold out multiple games this season.
The Maryland women’s basketball team plays Penn State at their Red Rush game. In the past, it has been a struggle for the team to sell tickets, but because of the rise in women’s sports, they successfully sold out multiple games this season.
Mia Lucas

‘The Caitlin Clark Effect’: Equality in women’s sports isn’t such a long shot after all

For many years, women’s sports have often been looked down upon. Until recently, men’s sports have been the default to watch and has been the focus of marketing toward consumers for decades. 

However, in recent years, the women’s basketball scene has opened the floodgates to women’s sports and allowed a lot of new, interesting events, movements and ideas to change the perception of women’s sports.

Arguably, the straw that broke the camel’s back was a video released during the 2021 D1 NCAA women’s national tournament for basketball. Sedona Prince of the University of Oregon women’s basketball team showed the women’s weight room at the tournament facility followed by a video of the men’s side. The men had an expansive ballroom-sized workout facility, while the women had a much smaller space and many fewer weights and equipment to use.

Before this video was released, the NCAA women’s basketball tournament was not authorized to use the trademark ‘March Madness’ in any branding or information related to the tournament. In 2022, the trademark began being used on all of the women’s tournament merchandise, courts, television and other miscellaneous uses related to the tournament.

Since the authorization of the trademark’s use in the women’s tournament, ESPN noted an 87 percent increase in viewership of the 2023 Final Four event in Dallas, as compared to the 2022 Final Four in Minneapolis.

Another factor in the dramatic increase in viewership is the attention paid to star players in women’s basketball such as Catilin Clark (University of Iowa), Paige Bueckers (University of Connecticut), Cameron Brink (Stanford University), Angel Reese (Louisiana State University) or Georgia Amoore (Virginia Tech). 

These players draw massive numbers of viewers to stadiums and arenas, create national conversations about game play and inspire young boys and girls around the globe to improve their game and dream big. 

From the view from top of the bowl at the Women’s B1G Ten Tournament in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the crowd is seen wearing yellow for Iowa Hawkeyes player Caitlin Clark. (photo by Rusty Ray, used with permission).

With Caitlin Clark and Cameron Brink declaring for the 2024 WNBA Draft after the completion of the current basketball season, there has been some concern that viewership of women’s basketball will decrease.

If anything, Clark and Brink’s transition into the WNBA will bridge the gap between women’s college and professional athletics.

After Clark announced that she would be declaring for the draft via her Instagram, the Indiana Fever sold out of season tickets within just a few days. The Indiana Fever will receive the number one pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft, and with Clark expected to be the highest draft pick, fans are eager to possibly secure a chance to watch Clark play in the big leagues.

In addition to the classic All-American basketball stars, there are countless freshmen making their mark this year in conference tournaments and regular season play. There is no doubt that the world of women’s basketball has a lot more in store for fans than just Caitlin Clark or other women’s college basketball stars.

First-year student athletes like Hannah Hidalgo (University of Notre Dame), MiLaysia Fulwiley (University of South Carolina) and Juju Watkins (University of Southern California) are all setting daily records on the court.

Hidalgo was named the ACC Rookie of the Year as well as ACC Defender of the Year–a feat not easily accomplished by anyone, let alone a freshman. Fulwiley was also named the SEC Tournament MVP and was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team. Finally, Juju Watkins, rumored to be the “next Caitlin Clark,” was named the PAC-12 Freshman of the Year and recently outscored Caitlin Clark’s freshman year total, scoring more than 800 points in her freshman season.

But women’s basketball is not the only sport that is on the rise; other women’s sports such as volleyball and hockey have seen a large increase in viewership and engagement. For example, the 2023 NCAA Division I women’s volleyball championship saw a 115 percent increase in viewership from the 2022 championship and broke the all-time collegiate volleyball attendance record for an indoor venue. 

The outdoor attendance record for women’s volleyball, as well as all of collegiate volleyball, was also set in 2023. Number 1 ranked NCAA women’s team Nebraska played an exhibition match in their Memorial Stadium, drawing just over 92,000 fans to watch the game against the University of Omaha.

College athletics is not the only sector of women’s sports seeing significant growth. The brand new Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) just started this year, and the inaugural game pulled 2.9 million viewers in Canada alone. With every game hosted, the records for watching professional women’s hockey grow and grow. 

Not only does the PWHL rake in  viewers on live television, they also live stream all of the games on their YouTube channel so viewers globally can watch and enjoy professional women’s sports for free.

It is clear that there is a massive interest in women’s sports that has room to be expanded upon and capitalized off of.

A massive majority of the sports shown on television are men’s sports. This does not necessarily mean that people are more interested in them; it just means that TV networks are utilizing their tried and true networking schedules that they have been for years. 

According to a study done by Seton Hall University, 50 percent of the general population and more than half of casual fans would like to see more exposure on various platforms for women’s sports. Additionally, nearly the same number of fans said if more women’s sports were broadcasted, they would watch them. 

Across the board, increasingly more people are starting to agree that networks and media companies have an obligation to increase the airtime of women’s sports with the growth in viewership (Data courtesy of Seton Hall University, graphic by Mia Lucas).

This data indicates that if broadcasting networks allocated funding and time into marketing and promoting women’s sports to the masses, people will watch. At this point in time, the argument is no longer about interest– something has been proven time and time again, with women’s sports viewership more than tripling over the past three years according to Forbes.

However, there are larger ways to expand in terms of marketing women’s sports in a way that people will resonate with and enough funding to do so. 

Recently, FOX reportedly considered offering Caitlin Clark an NIL deal  rumored to be worth a few million dollars. Then, hip-hop star and business mogul Ice Cube of BIG3 Sports made Clark an offer of $5 million to join the basketball league in her offseason of playing in the WNBA. 

Clark maintained in multiple interviews that those groups had not reached out to her personally to ask about a deal, which begs the question:  is FOX releasing these possible deals as an attempt to capitalize on Clark’s buzz worthiness, or are they serious about the deals?

Instead of proposing deals to one player in the limelight, companies should spread the wealth to lift all women athletes and women’s sports in general. They should invest more money into NIL deals with a whole team or group of players that are making history, rather than focusing millions of dollars on one person. 

Not only is it counter intuitive to highlight one player rather than many, it also highlights the ridiculous amounts of money these companies have that could be better used to empower all women in sports and try to ensure there are equal opportunities being created for female athletes.

At the very least, TV networks and companies that wish to secure NIL deals with elite athletes will make more money if there was more airtime being used to showcase women’s sports as a whole. Seeing as women’s sports ratings are just beginning to surpass men’s for the first time, this side of the sports industry would be a nearly untouched side of the market for deals to be made in.

The women’s sports community deserves better than having a select group of people reap all of the benefits of extended opportunities; instead, deserve the attention and support that men’s teams around the globe receive. It is time that the world realizes that women’s sports are just as entertaining as men’s–if not better in some cases–and  women deserve to shine just like male athletes, too.

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