Inside the Debate Over Caitlin Clark's Salary

Meanwhile, WNBA draft viewership hit an all-time high
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 17, 2024 9:40 AM CDT
Another Record Breaks With Caitlin Clark's Help
Iowa guard Caitlin Clark, center, poses for a photos with teammates and coaches during an Iowa women's basketball team celebration Wednesday, April 10, 2024, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa lost to South Carolina in the college basketball championship game of the women's NCAA Tournament on Sunday.   (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The 2023 WNBA draft attracted 572,000 viewers to ESPN. That was before Caitlin Clark. This year's draft absolutely smashed records on Monday with its average 2.45 million viewers. ESPN reports viewership peaked at 3.09 million. That's five times the previous record of 601,000 viewers who tuned in to see UConn's Diana Taurasi go No. 1 overall in 2004. Clark was the No. 1 pick in the draft, going to the Indiana Fever. But Tuesday saw some hand-wringing over her compensation.

Per the WNBA's collective bargaining agreement, Clark will earn $338,056 over four years. That's less than 1% of the contract nabbed by the No. 1 player in the 2023 NBA draft. NBC News reports San Antonio Spurs rookie star Victor Wembanyama signed a $55 million four-year contract and earned $12.1 million in his first season; Clark will earn $76,535, though that number will likely skyrocket via sponsorships and endorsements. But Atlantic writer Jemele Hill argues people "automatically assume that the No. 1 pick, that Caitlin Clark, expects to be paid like Victor Wembanyama. She does not, nor any other No. 1 pick in the history of the WNBA. They just want, now that the league is in a healthier place, they want to make more money. It's just as simple as that."

She added in a tweet, "The NBA has had 50+ years of investment, media coverage, etc. After 27 years, the WNBA will not be the current NBA. So stop comparing them ... buy the merchandise, go to the games, and watch the games on television." Journalist Sarah Spain underscores that point on X: "Also a reminder that early NBA games were double-headers w/ college games to draw fans, playoffs were tape-delayed until '86 and in the early '80s the average attendance for NBA games was usually less than 10,000 spectators. NBA has a 48-year head start. Support & help the W grow!"

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For a deep dive on the math, Mashable's Tim Marcin offers a great read here. He unpacks the way in which the collective bargaining agreement for the WNBA isn't as generous as that of the NBA, and concludes with advice in line with Spain's and Hill's: "What matters from here, for both Clark's bank account and the rest of the league, is seeing if the ratings boom from her college career transfers to the WNBA. And just FYI, WNBA League Pass—where you can stream all the games—is just $35 for the year. Quite the steal to watch the biggest show in basketball over the last two years." (More Caitlin Clark stories.)

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