Caitlin Clark has been a must-see attraction all season, with sold-out arenas where some tickets have gone for thousands of dollars on the secondary market.
The prices are only expected to go higher as the Iowa star approaches the NCAA all-time scoring record over the next few weeks.
While teams like Tennessee and UConn would draw huge crowds on the road in the past and South Carolina has had a strong fan base the last few years, Clark is different. There has never been anything like it in women's basketball when an individual player has drawn so much interest from fans wanting to see her play.
“Nobody’s ever had a player like this. She’s a combination of Pete Maravich and Steph Curry,” said Fox announcer Gus Johnson. “She plays in a different dimension and realm. Her ability to see, understand and anticipate the game and then from a physical aspect shoot the ball from almost anywhere when she gets into the frontcourt. Not even Diana Taurasi had this kind of range.”
Schools that have hosted Iowa have seen an attendance increase over 150% compared to their other home games on average. Northwestern had the first sellout in school history on Wednesday night when Clark and Iowa came to visit.
According to ticket marketplace Vivid Seats, the top five most in-demand NCAA women's games this year have featured Iowa. The average price of tickets for the Hawkeyes since Clark joined the team in 2020 is up 224% and the average distance traveled by a fan to watch Iowa play is up 34% from last season.
“It’s honestly, hard for me to wrap my head around. It’s crazy, it’s crazy the way people scream my name and really support us and I try to make time for as many of them as I can,” Clark said. “Like whenever I walk off the court, it’s so special just the way people scream our names and are so excited for our team. And that’s something that never gets old. I was that kid a few years back, so it’s crazy how time flies and I just try to soak it all in, every single moment.”
It's not just kids who want to see Clark and her deep 3's in action.
Former Iowa high school teammates Susan Johnstad, Deb Littlefield and Stephanie Fournier met at the Iowa-Rutgers game on Jan. 5 in Piscataway, New Jersey. They played basketball and softball together at Roland Story High School, about 45 miles from where Clark grew up in Des Moines.
“It’s been 30 years since we’ve all been together,” said Johnstad, who suggested they travel from their current homes in Virginia, Massachusetts and Iowa to watch Clark. “We played six-on-six basketball, and Iowa has such a tradition of supporting women’s basketball. Clark’s skill set is just amazing. In her recent commercial for Gatorade, she said she dreams big -- and it shows.”
Johnstad says she’s proud to see the joy last year's AP player of the year brings to fans wearing her No. 22 jersey, young and old.
“I’m a fan girl, for sure,” said Johnstad, who is an administrator at Virginia Tech. “I can see her play on television. But (it’s fun) to be able to see the people lined up beforehand and the girls working on their signs and doing the face paints.”
Clark is part of a new generation of stars that fans can easily and constantly see, through highlights on social media and games available on a whole host of networks and streaming services.
Back when Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and Sheryl Swoopes were dominating the game it was harder to see them play. Twitter and Instagram weren't around — YouTube was launched in 2005 — and players weren't allowed to star in national commercial campaigns like Clark is doing with State Farm and Nike.
Last year’s national championship game that featured Iowa and LSU drew almost 10 million viewers. This year, the Hawkeyes have already had games on NBC, Fox and ESPN. The overtime loss to Ohio State on NBC averaged 1.93 million viewers across the network and Peacock, peaking at 3.9 million during overtime. Over a million fans tuned in for Iowa’s win over Indiana on Fox.
Also in that crowd for the game at Rutgers was New Jersey Devils President Jake Reynolds. With him were his three daughters, Makenzie, 13, Katelyn, 10, and Harper, 8.
“This is something we decided to go to. Not a Rutgers season ticket holder, but this was part of the Caitlin Clark phenomenon," he said. “It was something that I sat there in amazement, just looking at the energy of what was going on around this event. Then I was blown away by just the response from so many fans. And then I was really proud to see so many young girls there."
Reynolds said watching Clark play in person has had a lasting effect on his daughters.
“To be able to, one, just witness the phenomenon that it is,” he said. “To be able to give my girls the opportunity and the experience to see that firsthand, someone that inspires them and someone that they aspire to be like, to be able to give them that experience and be able to share that experience with them is something that here we are several weeks later and it is still something that is talked about in our house.”
AP Sports Writers Tom Canavan, Jay Cohen, Mike Marot, Melissa Murphy and Joe Reedy contributed to this story.
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