The Caitlin Clark Effect: A Turning Point for Marketing in Women’s Sports

Jeff Lutz – VP, Corporate Communications & Content

Caitlin Clark, the electrifying point guard for the Iowa Hawkeyes, has become the biggest name in college basketball – men’s and women’s – captivating audiences with her unparalleled skillset and must-see performances on the court.

But what makes Clark special today isn’t just her talent; it’s the impact she’s had on basketball and women’s athletics. 

College basketball and March Madness, specifically, has long been a marketer’s dream. The event is typically rivaled only by the Super Bowl in advertising spending each year. But for a long time, the women's game struggled to draw the same level of interest the men's game has effortlessly commanded for decades. 

Today, the men’s college basketball landscape is being weighed down by economic shifts that eroded the previously amateur feel of the game. NIL dollars have swelled quickly, with the top 10 deals now each worth over $700,000, some well north of $1 million, which has caused a yearly “free agency” bidding war between top programs. The seemingly constant player turnover, whether through immediate transfers or completely skipping college to play in the G League, leaves fans with little time or opportunity to develop emotional attachments to their favorite players. 

Enter Caitlin Clark. 

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Google searches for Caitlin Clark vs. Zach Edey, last 12 months 

To illustrate the impact of Clark's meteoric rise, consider the significant increase in searches related to “women’s college basketball” over the past few years. While Clark isn’t solely responsible for this surge, of course, her presence has undoubtedly played a pivotal role in driving interest and engagement in the sport to groups who simply were not watching before.

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Description automatically generatedGoogle searches for “women’s college basketball,” 2020 – Present

And brands have taken notice. Clark has secured endorsements from major brands like Nike, Gatorade and State Farm, rounding out a total NIL bundle for 2023 reportedly worth over $3 million. LSU star forward Angel Reese has signed deals with Reebok, Airbnb and McDonalds, among others. While Reese’s teammate Flau’jae Johnson has partnered with Puma, Amazon, Powerade and more.  

Consumers have jumped on the hype bandwagon as well. Last year’s women’s final set a record high for viewership. Social media chatter about the sport and its athletes have hit all-time highs. The price of a 30-second advertisement during the women’s final is expected to increase by 500% this year compared to the last few. 

It’s not just college basketball – 2023 was a record year for women’s athletics as a whole. From the WNBA’s record-high viewership and a reported tripling in media coverage to new revenue opportunities like the introduction of the Professional Women’s Hockey League, this really is a whole new ballgame. 

Whether you take the micro or the macro view, women’s athletics is having a unique moment where attention is being met with the financial backing. Clark may be benefiting as much from trends coalescing as she is with her other-worldly talent, but it isn’t stopping brands from paying attention.

As we are collectively witnessing, the Caitlin Clark effect is much more than basketball – effectively creating a safe space for brands looking to embrace a shift in its targeted demographics. 

Want to learn more about what these trends mean for your organization?