Caitlin Clark’s debut with the Indiana Fever was the most-watched WNBA game in more than 20 years

Caitlin Clark’s debut was most-watched WNBA game in more than 20 years
from Nick Tylwalk, with

If there were any questions about whether Caitlin Clark would carry over her star power from college basketball to the WNBA, they were answered in just one game.

Clark’s first game for the Indiana Fever drew 2.1 million live viewers Tuesday night, the largest audience ever for a WNBA game on ESPN. It was also the most-watched WNBA game of any kind since 2001, when 2.45 million people tuned in to watch the Los Angeles Sparks and Houston Comets play a Memorial Day game on NBC.

While the viewership number has to be seen as an unqualified success for the league, it wasn’t all good for Clark and the Fever, who lost 92-71 to the Connecticut Sun. Clark led the way with 20 points for Indiana, going 5-for-15 from the floor and 4-for-11 from three-point range while also committing 10 turnovers.

Even at a time where there are more entertainment choices than ever, Clark has proven to be a needle-mover. She showed that during her college career at Iowa, where she became not just the most popular player in women’s college hoops, but arguably the most famous athlete in college sports all together.

Her arrival alongside fellow rookies like Angel Reese and Cameron Brink was billed as the start of a new era for the WNBA, and Clark’s debut numbers bear that out. The audience for the Fever’s first 2024 game was 46% larger than the previous record high for a game on ESPN, set back in 2004 when the sports and entertainment landscape was much different.

The sports competition on Tuesday night was also legitimate, with the Fever vs. Sun matchup going head to head with both NBA and NHL playoff games. That will only intensify over the next few weeks as both leagues plunge into their conference finals and championship series.

But even if interest in the Fever’s games dips a little going forward, there’s now plenty of evidence to suggest that Clark is going to keep more people than ever watching WNBA games. That’s good news for the WNBA and its broadcast partners as the league heads toward its 30th anniversary in just a few years.

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