The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Hinske Huddle: Caitlin Clark and WNBA may teach NBA counterparts the benefits of a shorter season

Fans+hold+images+of+Iowa+senior+superstar+Caitlin+Clark+at+the+DePaul-Iowa+game+in+Iowa+City+on+Sunday%2C+Oct.+15%2C+2023.+Clark+has+since+become+one+of+basketballs+biggest+stars+and+was+drafted+to+the+WNBAs+Indiana+Fever+on+Monday%2C+April+15%2C+2024.
Donald Crocker
Fans hold images of Iowa senior superstar Caitlin Clark at the DePaul-Iowa game in Iowa City on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023. Clark has since become one of basketball’s biggest stars and was drafted to the WNBA’s Indiana Fever on Monday, April 15, 2024.

The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) has been presented with possibly the most league-altering season in history as Caitlin Clark is slated to begin her career with the Indiana Fever this May, and it may help resolve one of the NBA’s biggest issues.

The morning after the April 8 NCAA women’s national championship, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced the league was seeking to double their current $60 million in media rights for the upcoming seasons. The next day, the WNBA released its TV schedule, and Clark’s new team, the Indiana Fever, will have 36 of their 40 games broadcast on national TV.

The Fever, however, have been quiet. Unlike the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs with first pick Victor Wembanyama and the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks with first pick Connor Bedard in the last year, the Fever had not disclosed any information surrounding ticket sales before the selection of Clark, nor have they mentioned Clark explicitly when referring to next season.

The Fever, a small-market team that sits near the bottom of the league in attendance, has the opportunity to become one of the titans of the WNBA. Though it cannot be fully quantified yet because of the lack of ticket sales information available, it should not be understated how much exposure the franchise and the league as a whole will get this summer.

Above: 2023 WNBA season attendance per franchise, according to Across the Timeline. Indiana, sitting at 11th last season, is expected to sell out nearly every game in the 17,000-seat Gainbridge Fieldhouse this summer.
Infographic by: Ryan Hinske

As stated earlier, WNBA teams play 40 games, meaning there are 20 opportunities to fill arenas for each team every year. The NBA slates 82 games per season, meaning an NBA team has more home games (41) than a WNBA team has total games (40). The NBA has remained set in this schedule, citing that ticket sales and TV engagement remain high with this loaded schedule.

The 2022-23 NBA regular season was the least watched in 30 years, with 1.59 million viewers per game. Though social media metrics continue to rise with the high-quantity format, frustration in the fan base has been mounting surrounding “load management,” or the resting of players to prevent injuries. Load management has become more popular as advancements in sports medicine and player training have uncovered the benefits of resting players so they are better optimized in the playoffs. 

The problem is that fans don’t know whether their favorite superstars will play on any given night, so viewership and game attendance has taken a hit. After the NBA introduced new rules last offseason that require players to tally a least 65 games to qualify for regular season awards, injuries among superstars have increased for those players. It seems like the NBA just can’t get the 82-game format to work to their benefit besides its social media metrics.

The NBA finally has a case study they can focus on: the upcoming WNBA season. Because viewership and attendance are expected to be at an all-time high, the WNBA may present a media scenario comparable to that of their brother league. If attendance, viewership, and social media engagement are comparably high for the league this season, the NBA will be forced to consider the benefits of a shorter season.

If fans just can’t get enough of the Caitlin Clark WNBA, their league may have to consider the opposite: increasing the number of games. The sweet spot remains to be seen, but with another league possessing enough following to test this format, a solution seems more imminent than previously foreseen.

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