WNBA must not use Caitlin Clark as a further excuse to gatekeep W-first media

The declaration of Caitlin Clark for this year’s WNBA draft was a decision that many far and wide were waiting for. 

There was some chatter in the build-up to said decision that maybe Clark would decide to use her COVID year. Paige Bueckers at UConn decided to use said COVID year as opposed to declaring for this year’s draft. 

But Clark will indeed be going pro and will almost certainly be playing the first few years of her career with the Indiana Fever alongside Aliyah Boston. 

Clark will bring plenty of things with her to the professional ranks. Among those are a passionate fanbase, plenty of NIL/endorsement money and a raised celebrity profile. 

What she also brings is mainstream media attention. Media that barely touched women’s basketball before all of a sudden have the sport all on their brains because of the sensation that is No. 22 from Iowa. 

The Clark effect is real – season ticket prices for Fever games will reportedly be double what they previously were and demand for tickets is at a high in the basketball hotbed that is the Hoosier State. 

Let us get to the whole mainstream media attention part of the equation. Not too long ago, Shams Charania recently broke news that the New York Liberty had re-signed Breanna Stewart to a one-year deal less than the max contract someone of Stewie’s caliber could have easily commanded. 

It allows the Liberty to keep the same starting five of her, Jonquel Jones, Sabrina Ionescu, Courtney Vandersloot and Betnijah Laney that advanced to last year’s Finals vs. the Las Vegas Aces and came within an eyelash of forcing a Game 5 back in Las Vegas. 

That was another obvious case of an agent shopping a story to a mainstream NBA reporter because the WNBA wants mainstream attention. Again – nothing wrong with mainstream reporters wanting to cover the W, but we have said this time and time again. 

Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski’s bread and butter are the NBA. How are agents shopping big scoops such as this to NBA-first reporters when WNBA-first news breakers such as Khristina Williams are in the trenches with the W on a daily basis. 

This brings us to all of the mainstream media attention that has surrounded Clark despite the fact that she does not exactly play in a big media state such as Iowa. The WNBA can welcome all of the press corps that cover Clark that it wants, but it also needs to recognize that there is a lot of press out there that could barely name ten WNBA players without Googling. 

There is a big difference between covering an entire league and only covering one player. Now, if those mainstream media types that cover Clark as if she invented women’s basketball take time to learn more about the WNBA and its players, then it is a net win for the WNBA. 

But the WNBA is receiving more mainstream media attention simply because of its own organic growth. A good bit of that growth has occurred because of how the players have successfully branded themselves on social media, but a great deal of that growth has been because of the large number of independent media outlets that have lifted the W to the point where the big girls and boys with the deeper pockets want to go straight to the VIP section of the club. 

Except there would be no club without the tireless work of those indie outlets. 

We mentioned this when we did our “teardown” of the W’s overall relationship with media shortly after the conclusion of the 2023 season. The WNBA needs to embrace the big tent mindset where there is room for everyone – the indies and the mainstreams. And more pressure needs to be put on the mainstreams to pay full-time salary to those who wish to cover women’s sports and make a decent living off of it. 

The idea that there is a lack of interest in covering women’s sports is a farce. All one has to do is look at the full media rooms that the W has encountered lately with its coverage of marquee events such as All-Star and the Finals. The problem is that mainstream media outlets still have their calendars set to the 1980s instead of 2024. 

Plus…will many of these mainstream media outlets even follow Clark into the W? We know her fans throughout Iowa will.

Something tells us Clark is about to be a case study for WNBA-media relations. And the league needs to choose wisely. Take care of the ball, WNBA. Do not turn the rock over.