The ‘Caitlin Clark Effect’ goes beyond the basketball court

Caitlin Clark’s meteoric rise is sending ripples beyond the basketball court. In early April, she played her last college basketball game, and retired with the highest point total in men’s and women’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) history. Her Iowa Hawkeyes got to back-to-back national championship games after having previously reaching the final once in program history.

Eight days later, she was the WNBA’s number one pick. She’s played five games for the Indiana Fever, and has already made quite a splash in the professional game. The fans’ desire to see her play is evident.

Both of the Fever’s home games were played in front of sold-out Gainbridge Fieldhouse crowds. Additionally, the Fever’s road game at the Connecticut Suns was the first sell-out home opener since 2003. Their trips to the Seattle Storm and the New York Liberty were also played in front of record crowds.

The Fever’s game at Las Vegas in July has been moved to T-Mobile Arena in anticipation of high ticket sales. That’ll be the second time the Fever have played at Las Vegas this season. Their first meeting, a 99-80 victory for the Aces last weekend, was played in front of 10,399 fans. This was the fourth-highest attendance for an Aces match at Michelob ULTRA Arena.

The spray from the splash Clark has made has landed far off the court, in sportsbooks and daily fantasy contests. Daily fantasy sports operator PrizePicks told iGB it saw a 185% increase in WNBA picks for opening night against 2023.

Clark, meanwhile, was the second-most picked player across both the men’s and women’s games across the last seven days. PrizePicks said she was picked more often than either Jayson Tatum and Nikola Jokic, winner of three of the last four NBA MVP titles.

Clark among MVP favourites

The “Clark Effect” is also evident at sportsbooks.

Fanatics Sportsbook, for instance, shared that despite being a rookie, Clark is the third-favourite to win the MVP award. If she manages it, she’d be just the second rookie to achieve the feat in the WNBA behind Candace Parker in 2008. Fanatics said 29.2% of all WNBA MVP bets placed are on Clark.

The Fever, meanwhile, are the fifth-favourites to win the WNBA Championship this season. That’s despite finishing 13-27 in 2023, the third-worst in the league. Through seven games, Indiana is 1-6 since the 2024 season started on 14 May.

The Fever haven’t qualified for the postseason since 2016. But this year, they lead the way by for WNBA title wagers with 48.8% of tickets and 43.1% of handle. As a result, their odds have slashed by a fifth.

Some aren’t buying the hype. The Fever to win 21 games or less over the season has drawn the most handle at Fanatics of any WNBA futures bet.

Clark boosting betting

Jay Kornegay is vice president of race and sportsbook operations at the Westgate Las Vegas, home of the SuperBook. Like Fanatics, SuperBook has seen betting interest in Clark and the WNBA rocket.

SuperBook’s betting handle on the WNBA has increased 22% on previous years. Kornegay compares Clark’s influence to Tiger Woods’ on golf in the 1990s.

“There’s no doubt the impact is real,” Kornegay told iGB. “Tiger was a phenomenon that had a lot of eyes and he boosted the sport of golf to make it relevant in the gaming circles.”

“Caitlin Clark has done the same with women’s sports. Not just women’s basketball, but there seem to be inquiries about other women’s sports, including soccer games and golf, to name a couple.”

Fever performances impact the ‘Caitlin Clark Effect’

Kornegay revealed prop bets on Clark at SuperBook received similar action to that of the ongoing NBA playoffs.

However, like other US sports leagues such as the NFL and MLB, in the WNBA, top college talent often goes to the worst teams. In all US pro leagues, the worst teams get the top draft picks in a bid to boost parity.

As a result, Clark is playing for a franchise that currently sits at 1-6. Their new star already ranks as one of the top players in the WNBA, averaging 19th in the league in points per game and fourth in assists.

But with the Fever’s playoff chances already looking slender, Kornegay warned the potential of the betting statistics are unlikely to be realised until on-court showings improve.

“I’d expect if they don’t have a lot of success on the court, then those [wagering] numbers will probably dwindle a little bit until they have more success,” Kornegay said.

“However, they‘re making positive strides, that success is in the near future. And once they have success, meaning a playoff run or a championship run, I’d think those numbers would come close to what we saw during the NCAA tournament.”

NCAA tournament surpassed USWNT betting figures

The USWNT has long been seen as spearheading female sports in the US. But Kornegay said Clark’s performances in the NCAA tournament earlier this year led to betting interest exceeding that of the USWNT.

“Going back to her college days, the impact was very obvious,” Kornegay said. “Those games set records. We’ve never seen that type of action on any women’s sports like we saw with Caitlin Clark and her Iowa team.

“That includes the US women’s soccer team. If you were to ask me prior to this season the most popular women’s sport, it would’ve been the US women’s soccer team. This year, Caitlin Clark and her team surpassed that.”

Iowa’s NCAA tournament final loss to South Carolina beat out the next most-bet event April 7 by 34%. The second-most bet event was Los Angeles Lakers-Minnesota Timberwolves NBA game.

Sell-out arenas and global interest

According to statistics from Sports Media Watch, Clark has played in the three WNBA games with the highest viewership since 2022.

iGB reached out to the WNBA for comment but did not receive a response.

In the UK, too, top media outlets are taking a keen interest in Clark. Broadcaster TNT Sports announced a multi-year agreement to show at least 16 WNBA regular-season games live in the UK and Ireland. Social media interest has also spiked.

It remains to be seen whether the Fever pitch reaches a crescendo as it did in Clark’s Iowa playing days. Should that happen, though, the betting figures could be astronomical as she truly becomes the face of the WNBA and women’s sport.

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