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WNBA TV ratings: Caitlin Clark vs Angel Reese draws huge ratings for ESPN

Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

How many people watch the WNBA? Even before the arrival of Caitlin Clark, the popularity of women’s college basketball was steadily on the rise. After being drafted with the first overall pick by the Indiana Fever, Clark is going to provide a massive boost to WNBA TV ratings in 2024 and beyond.

We witnessed the effect Clark had on college basketball TV ratings, with the women’s NCAA Tournament and Final Four setting all-time records. Clark is just the first of several women’s college basketball superstars who should be bringing an even bigger audience with them to the WNBA in the years to come.

Related: Highest-paid WNBA players

Here are the WNBA TV ratings for the 2024 season. Further below, you can find numbers for the WNBA Draft and the 2023 season.

Most watched WNBA games 2024

Here are the most-watched WNBA games in 2024.

Game (Network)Avg. Viewers
May 14 – Indiana Fever @ Connecticut Sun (ESPN2)2.12 million
May 16- Indiana Fever @ New York Liberty (ABC)1.71 million
May 18 – Connecticut Sun @ Indiana Fever (ESPN)1.56 million
June 1- Chicago Sky vs Indiana Fever (ESPN)1.5 million
May 18 – Los Angeles Sparks @ Las Vegas Aces (ABC)1.34 million
May 24 – Indiana Fever @ Los Angeles Sparks (ION)724,000
We’re tracking all nationally televised WNBA games where the viewership is made available

Chicago Sky-Indiana Fever draws huge audience

Even before Chennedy Carter’s cheap shot on Caitlin Clark in Saturday’s game between the Chicago Sky vs Indiana Fever, sports fans were hooked on the matchup on ESPN. The broadcast averaged 1.5 million viewers on June 1, making it the fourth most-watched WNBA game in the last 22 years.

Considering what came out of that game, WNBA TV ratings could climb even higher. As for a rematch between the Sky vs Fever, that will come on Sunday, June 16 at 12:00 PM ET with the matchup on CBS. We’ll just say it now, that will be the most-watched WNBA game on CBS in decades and could challenge for 2 million viewers.

WNBA TV ratings continue to climb

Caitlin Clark continues to get much-deserved credit for the huge boom the WNBA and its broadcasting partners are seeing in television ratings this year. However, there are still some huge audiences for matchups even when she’s not involved.

A matchup between the New York Liberty vs Minnesota Lynx on May 24 averaged 704,000 viewers on CBS. It was the most-watched WNBA game ever on CBS. Speaking of record-breaking TV ratings, ION averaged 724,00 viewers for its broadcast of the Indiana Fever vs Los Angeles Sparks. A partner with the WNBA for the last two seasons, it was the most-watched game ever for ION>

Are WNBA ratings up?

WNBA TV ratings have skyrocketed in the 2024 season. ABC announced it had its most-viewed opening weekend doubleheader ever, with two games combining to average 1.5 million viewers. That marks a 143 percent increase from a WNBA doubleheader on ABC a year ago.

The WNBA has already had four games averaging over 1.3 million viewers this season across ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC. These are the most-watched WNBA games in over two decades.

ESPN, ABC pull huge numbers

It should come as no surprise that there was a bit of a drop-off in the WNBA TV ratings following Clark’s debut with the Indiana Fever. However, her continued presence on the court is still delivering ratings gold for ESPN and ABC this season.

Related: Indiana Fever attendance skyrocketing thanks to Caitlin Clark

Saturday’s Fever vs New York Liberty game averaged 1.71 million viewers with a 1.1 rating for ABC’s broadcast in the afternoon. It ranks as the second most-watched WNBA game in the last 22 seasons, only behind Clark’s WNBA debut earlier in the week.

Days later, ESPN’s broadcast of the rematch between the Fever and Connecticut Sun on Monday night averaged 1.56 million viewers for ESPN. Giving that some perspective, ESPN’s broadcast of Game 7 between the Edmonton Oilers vs Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference Semifinals of the NHL Playoffs averaged 1.66 million viewers.

Caitlin Clark’s Indiana Fever debut delivers most-watched WNBA game in 23 years

WNBA: Indiana Fever at Connecticut Sun
Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

According to CNBC’s Matt Marshall, Caitlin Clark’s WNBA debut drew 2.11 million viewers on ESPN2 in the Indiana Fever’s 92-71 loss to the Connecticut Sun.

Not only did Clark’s debut bring in more viewers than ESPN’s NHL Playoffs (1.99 million), it was the most-watched WNBA game since 2001 (Sparks-Comets on NBC), delivering the league’s top audience ever recorded on cable networks.

2024 NBA Draft TV ratings

WNBA TV ratings, WNBA Draft TV ratings
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The 2024 WNBA Draft drew 2.446 million viewers to ESPN on Monday night, making it the most-watched draft in WNBA history.

  • 2024 WNBA Draft viewership: 2.446 million

In comparison, the 2023 WNBA Draft averaged 572,000 viewers on ESPN, which was a 42 percent increase and previously the most-watched WNBA Draft since 2006. The “Clark effect” has already benefitted the WNBA before the Fever’s newest star even takes the court. It also highlights why the Fever will have 36 of their 40 games on national television in 2024.

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WNBA Finals 2023 drew highest ratings in decades

WNBA TV ratings, WNBA Finals
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The WNBA’s popularity was already on the rise before Clark’s arrival. The power of two superteams – Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty – brought a new wave of fans to women’s pro basketball. When the highly-anticipated WNBA Finals matchup between the Liberty vs Aces arrived, fans tuned in.

Breaking it down game-by-game, Game 1 of the 2023 WNBA Finals saw an 18 percent increase year-over-year and Game 3 was the most-watched Game 3 in 18 years, per the Sports Business Journal. Through the first three games of the series, the WNBA Finals had experienced a 20-year high. Game 4 was the most-watched in WNBA Finals history, closing off the season in historic fashion.

WNBA Finals ratings 2023

  • Game 1: 729,000 avg. viewers – ABC – 18% increase from 2022
  • Game 2: 680,00 avg. viewers – ESPN –
  • Game 3: 659,000 avg. viewers – ABC – 14% increase from 2022
  • Game 4: 889,000 avg. viewers
  • 2023 WNBA Finals: 36 percent increase from 2022

Related: Caitlin Clark salary, details on Clark’s WNBA contract

WNBA TV ratings in 2023

WNBA TV ratings
Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

TV networks have increasingly shown more interest in the WNBA in recent years, finally providing the women’s game an opportunity to get some of the spotlight. With more WNBA games being nationally televised more frequently, Disney and CBS saw rewards for it in 2023.

  • WNBA television rating 2023: 505,000 avg. viewers on ESPN, CBS

ESPN reported its highest WNBA ratings in decades, with viewership increasing 21 percent in comparison to the previous season. In addition, the WNBA experienced record highs in performance on digital platforms, record-setting social media engagement and more sports betting on WNBA games. In total, ESPN and CBS reported a collected 8 percent increase in viewership year-to-year.

WNBA ratings by year

  • 2023: 505,000 avg. viewers – (ESPN, ABC, ESPN2)
  • 2022: 372,000 avg. viewers – (ESPN, ABC, ESPN2)
  • 2021: 306,000 avg. viewers – (ESPN, ABC, CBS)
  • 2020: 205,000 avg. viewers – (ESPN, ABC, ESPN)

After agreeing in 2021 to pay $27 million annually for the rights to WNBA games, ESPN’s deal with the league expires in 2025. With Clark’s arrival and the eventual addition of women’s college basketball stars like Paige Bueckers (UConn Huskies) and JuJu Watkins (USC Trojans), a new deal should be on the horizon and it will provide the WNBA with significant revenue moving forward.

Are WNBA TV ratings good?

WNBA television ratings have been steadily on the rise since the 2021 season, with the WNBA averaging over 500,000 viewers per nationally broadcasted game in 2023. In addition, the 2023 WNBA Finals was the most-watched in 20 years.

Also Read: Best women’s college basketball players ever

Most-watched WNBA games ever

Here are the highest WNBA TV ratings ever.

Game (Network)Avg. Viewers
June 21, 1997 – New York Liberty @ Los Angeles Sparks (NBC)5.04 million
June 22, 1997 – Charlotte Sting @ Phoenix Mercury (NBC)3.59 million
Sept. 5, 1999 – New York Liberty @ Houston Comets (NBC)3.25 million
June 14, 1998 – Los Angeles Sparks @ Phoenix Mercury (NBC)2.89 million
Aug. 30, 1997 – New York Liberty @ Houston Comets (NBC)2.85 million
May 29, 2000 – New York Liberty @ Houston Comets (NBC)2.74 million
Aug. 29, 1999 – Los Angeles Sparks @ Houston Comets (NBC)2.62 million
June 13, 1998 – Houston Comets @ New York Liberty (NBC)2.55 million
Aug. 9, 1997 – Los Angeles Sparks @ Houston Comets (NBC)2.53 million
Aug. 8, 1999 – Houston Comets @ New York Liberty (NBC)2.46 million
Data courtesy of SportsMediaWatch.com

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