Iowa’s Caitlin Clark is a superstar. For a fanbase that has been blessed with generational talents in men’s and women’s basketball, as well as wrestling over the last handful of years, Clark stands out as head and shoulders above even the likes of Keegan Murray, Luka Garza, Megan Gustafson and Spencer Lee. She’s in a class all by herself.
But what makes Clark so special is not that she’s great at basketball, but how she is great at basketball. Because the way Clark plays the game, both her style of play and her attitude, have helped to grow both her brand and the sport.
Entering her senior season, Clark doesn’t just represent women’s college basketball, she transcends it.
Clark is perhaps the greatest superstar we have seen in college athletics — men’s or women’s. We’re living in a new era of name, image and likeness where the under the table transactions that used to happen for the elite of college football and men’s college basketball have given way to big sponsorship deals for athletes in all sports.
Nobody has benefited more than Caitlin Clark. The West Des Moines native has struck deals with everyone from the regional grocery chain Hy-Vee (much to the chagrin of Iowa State fans who are greeted with a life-size cutout of Clark much in the way fans a generation ago were greeted by the cutout of Michael Jordan) to massive national brands. Clark has deals with Buick, Nike, State Farm and others. She represents all that is good about NIL.
Big moves ahead with State Farm and @Jake from State Farm! brb, omw to get new khakis #ad♬ original sound - Caitlin Clark
And she’s breaking barriers as she does it. No male athlete at Iowa come close in NIL value to Clark. Just being mentioned alongside Clark is enough to help others become more valuable.
Take for instance, LSU’s Angel Reese. Now known as the Bayou Barbie, Reese wasn’t a household name a year ago. She was a highly rated recruit out of high school and well known within the women’s college basketball community, but she wasn’t someone a non-basketball fan knew. Until the national championship game a season ago.
Sure, Reese played fine. She finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, placing her fourth on a loaded roster for scoring. But when she chose to follow Clark around in the waning seconds, she launched herself beyond the world of college basketball and into the living rooms of millions more people who hadn’t heard of her.
In the months since that game, Reese saw her social media following explode with her Instagram following more than tripling to more than 2 million followers. Such exposure has launched her into the spotlight for NIL deals that didn’t exist a year ago and without Clark may have never come.
Because Caitlin Clark transcends college basketball and being linked to Clark raises all profiles.
Beyond the financial implication, Clark’s ability to draw in fans and transcend the sport has put her in a unique position to grow the game while also pushing forward women’s equality.
Now matter how you slice it, Clark is the highest profile athlete in Iowa and men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery knows it. To the point where prospects visiting Iowa for McCaffery’s men’s team are now being courted by Clark with her star power. The Hawkeye men have hosted a number of high profile recruits in recent weeks and a trend has emerged with most taking the opportunity for a photo opp with the most famous Hawkeye.
Had a Great time on my Official Visit pic.twitter.com/Qcco8b4qhX— pharaoh compton (@PharaohCompton) October 1, 2023
That popularity carries over to the box office where the Iowa women have sold out their home slate for 2023-24. This after setting a record with more than 54,000 fans buying tickets to watch Clark and the Hawkeyes host an outdoor exhibition game against DePaul in Kinnick Stadium earlier this month.
The men? Tickets are still available for this season.
If you want to see Caitlin Clark play this season, your best bet it to try to hit the road with the team. Even then, however, tickets are hard to come by. Of Iowa’s 11 road games, two are already sold out. Iowa State hasn’t even place theirs on sale yet, but they’ve raised the price for the Iowa game to more than triple that of a standard home game. Wisconsin, too, has tripled the cost of a ticket to watch their women play when Clark comes to town. All others have also elevated the cost vs. Iowa.
But it’s on the secondary market where the real show of capitalism hits. On StubHub and Ticketmaster, the cost to watch Iowa on the road is anywhere from 5-10 times mire than what it would cost to watch those teams any other game of the season.
People want to see Caitlin Clark live. They want to be able to say they’ve done it. Because she transcends the sport and draws in new fans in a way we’ve never seen.
There’s perhaps no better way to show the true star power of Clark than to look at the kids. What she has done for young girls across the country is almost unfathomable. Everywhere you look, there are girls in Clark 22 shirts, jerseys and more. A generation of girls will grow up knowing that not only can they play basketball, but they can do it on the same stage or bigger than the boys.
That’s a powerful message, as pointed out by our own Jerry Scherwin in his letter to his daughters.
That game didn’t even count for anything in terms of wins or losses or stats. But it counted for EVERYTHING in terms of status and pushing the game and women’s sports forward.
But you could argue the message is even more powerful to this generation of young boys. As a father of three (and soon to be four) young boys, it’s remarkable to see them progress from the “I don’t want to watch girls play basketball” phase into the “what time does Clark play” phase of fandom. They don’t care that she’s a girl, they care that she’s good and she’s fun to watch.
For the first time perhaps ever, we will have a generation where not only do the women believe they can do what the men can, but the men believe it too. Because they will have witnessed it. My boys will grow up in a world where the most popular basketball player in the country is a woman.
Not only is she the most popular, but they know she is the best. There will be no comments about being good for a girl. Simply comments about how good she is.
And that’s the difference between being the face of a sport, and transcending it.