Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, and the WNBA’s meteoric rise, in one chart

The WNBA’s new season is off to a meteoric start, in just one sign of the momentum women’s sports currently have. 

In the first five WNBA games that have aired on ESPN, average viewership topped 1 million people and surpassed last year’s average by 226 percent, reports the AP’s Doug Feinberg. In-person audiences are up 14 percent compared to last year as well, Feinberg adds. And the league’s app downloads have similarly skyrocketed, growing 146 percent.  

The WNBA’s success is due in part to a first-year class full of college sports phenoms like Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, and Cameron Brink who brought unprecedented attention to college women’s basketball during this year’s NCAA tournament and set new records for scoring and viewership during their undergraduate careers. When these athletes were recently drafted to the WNBA, their many fans followed them, boosting ticket and merchandise sales as well as TV ratings. 

Clark’s debut game for the Indiana Fever, for instance, brought in 2.1 million viewers, the most of any WNBA game on ESPN platforms, according to the network. And the stars are bringing in the next generation of fans as well: Notably, one of the biggest ratings increases the WNBA has seen is from girls between the ages of 12 to 17.

These gains build on steady growth the league has made in the last few years. As Sportsnaut reports, WNBA ratings have been increasing since 2021, driven by the expanding fanbases of powerhouse teams like the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty. In 2023, the WNBA also saw the highest number of total unique viewers it has had in more than a decade

The WNBA is working to drive interest by making long-term investments in the league as well. The league recently announced the launch of new teams in the Bay Area and Toronto, which will bring the number of active teams up to 14. The Golden State Valkyries and Toronto’s yet-to-be-named team mark the first expansions the WNBA has made of its league since 2008 and signal new opportunities to reach people. They’ll mean more players, new rivalries, and more storylines to follow in the years to come.

“Last year, we had peaks in attendance, peaks in sales and tickets, and it just shows that people have been dedicated to this sport,” Washington Mystics center Shakira Austin told NBC News. “I think we’re just going to continue to elevate and, you know, hopefully our league is able to, you know, back it up and be prepared for the attention we’re about to get.”

Such successes are part of a larger surge of growth across women’s sports, including major expansions in soccer, volleyball, and hockey. Collectively, this interest highlights the big business of women’s sports and the hunger from fans for these events. 

There’s growing demand for women’s sports

As Axios reported, the United Soccer League Super League, a new women’s soccer league that already has eight franchises across the country, will play its inaugural season this year. A professional women’s hockey league has also launched in 2024 with six teams, and a professional volleyball federation has launched as well with seven teams. 

The new leagues reflect increasing demand for women’s sports. According to Nielsen, a ratings tracking company, interest and viewership in women’s sports is up across the collegiate, professional, and international levels, signaling strong audience enthusiasm in these competitions. 

This growth has been driven by interest from new fans, the rise of stars like Clark and Reese, as well as prime broadcast placement by television networks. In 2023, the National Women’s Soccer final and the NCAA women’s basketball final were both broadcast during primetime on a major network for the first time in years. Support and excitement for women’s sports have also emerged as there’s been a greater commitment to gender parity across different fields, both in pay and in representation.

Given the successes and expansions that different leagues are experiencing, Deloitte estimates that elite women’s sports as an industry will rake in over $1 billion in 2024, representing a 300 percent increase in revenue compared to 2021. 

Increasingly, as sold-out WNBA stadiums are demonstrating, this rise in enthusiasm toward women’s sports is becoming the norm. 

Latest articles


Related articles

Leave a reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here