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Caitlin Clark's Popularity Dispels This Myth About Sexism

Victor Joecks on

Caitlin Clark's popularity shows sexism isn't holding back the WNBA.

Earlier this month, the Las Vegas Aces thumped the Indiana Fever, 88-69. But the score wasn't the big story. The massive crowd was. It was a sellout crowd of 20,366. It was the most people to watch a WNBA regular season game since 1999.

The biggest draw was Clark, the former Iowa star who plays for the Fever. Her step-back threes and scoring prowess have made her a major celebrity. This year, the Fever had more fans in Clark's first five home games than it did in 20 home games last year. Clark draws massive crowds on the road, too. The Aces usually play their home games at the 12,000-seat Michelob Ultra Arena. For this game, they played at T-Mobile Arena, which has a significantly larger capacity.

Clark boosted the Aces' attendance numbers for this game, but the team has done a great job drawing fans all season. They sold out their season tickets this year, the first WNBA team to do so. Last year, their average home attendance was around 9,500 fans. That's more than double their home attendance in 2019.

Even this success isn't without its critics. Clark's rookie contract guarantees her less than $77,000 this year. With incentives, she could earn $500,000 or more from the WNBA. But that's a fraction of the $12.1 million that 2023 NBA No. 1 draft pick Victor Wembanyama made in his first year.

"Women in sports continue to push new boundaries and inspire us all," President Joe Biden tweeted about this in April. "But right now we're seeing that even if you're the best, women are not paid their fair share."

Leave aside the irony of that complaint coming from someone who believes men should be competing in women's sports. WNBA players have long bemoaned the supposed gender pay gap.

In 2018, Aces player A'ja Wilson tweeted about NBA superstar LeBron James signing a $154 million contract. "Must be nice. We are here looking for a (million) but Lord, let me get back in my lane," she wrote.

To celebrate the anniversary of Title IX in 2022, then-Los Angeles Sparks forward Katie Lou Samuelson wore shoes that said, "Pay women athletes."

 

But it's not sexism that keeps the pay of WNBA players below their NBA counterparts. It's economics. The NBA's annual revenue is more than $10 billion. In 2023, the WNBA's total was around $200 million. That was a massive jump from the $60 million it brought in 2022. Clark's inaugural season is certain to push revenues even higher. If that continues, WNBA salaries will soar, too, at least once players renegotiate their collective bargaining agreement.

This is what happened in the NBA. Lakers superstar Magic Johnson was one of the game's greatest players. He earned around $40 million in his playing career. Last season, 18 players had salaries topping $40 million. Some of those players didn't even make the All-Star team, but in one season, they earned more than Johnson did in his whole career. Even back-up players now routinely sign contracts worth more than $40 million. As the league grew in popularity, it made more money. That lead to a massive spike in player pay.

The WNBA is like every other entertainment venture. The more it captures people's attention, the more money its athletes will make. That's why it was such a mistake to leave Clark off the women's Olympic basketball team.

There was never a patriarchal conspiracy to stop people from watching the WNBA. As Clark demonstrates, sports draw people in when they feature amazing athletes competing, not reciting woke talking points.

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Victor Joecks is a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Email him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or follow @victorjoecks on X. To find out more about Victor Joecks and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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