Caitlin Clark debut is most-watched WNBA game since 2001

Caitlin Clark debut is most-watched WNBA game since 2001

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA debut was the league’s most-watched game in 23 years.

Tuesday’s Fever-Sun WNBA Opening Night game, featuring the professional debut of Fever and former Iowa G Caitlin Clark, averaged 2.13 million viewers across ESPN2 (2.12M) and ESPN Deportes (13K) — the largest WNBA game audience in nearly 23 years, since Sparks-Comets on NBC Memorial Day 2001 (2.44M), and the league’s top audience ever on cable. For a list of the ten most-watched games in WNBA history, see this page.

The previous high for a WNBA game on the ESPN networks, including ABC, was 1.43 million for Diana Taurasi’s career debut against the same Connecticut Sun on ABC in 2004.

Connecticut’s win was the first WNBA game in nearly 16 years to average a seven figure audience. Candace Parker’s career debut in May 2008 was the previous such game with 1.07 million on ABC.

The game ranked third among sporting events Tuesday night behind the NBA Playoffs on TNT — Pacers-Knicks averaged 4.88 million and Timberwolves-Nuggets 4.51 million — and ahead of the competing Bruins-Panthers NHL Stanley Cup playoff game on ESPN (1.99M). (The NHL game finished ahead in the adults 18-49 demo, 0.58 to 0.48). The WNBA competition did not seem to have much impact on either the Pacers-Knicks or Bruins-Panthers games, as viewership was on par with previous games in those series.

Clark’s coattails did not carry as far as one might have expected. Tuesday’s Mercury-Aces nightcap averaged just 464,000 viewers, retaining less than a quarter of its lead-in.

As one would expect given the viewership disparity between the NBA and WNBA, Clark’s debut was not quite on the level of NBA stars such as Victor Wembanyama (2.99M on ESPN in October) or LeBron James (3.03M on ESPN in 2003). It was not far off of Zion Williamson’s delayed debut in 2020, which also aired on ESPN and averaged 2.36 million.

In Indianapolis, the Fever game averaged a 2.95 rating. That was no match for the Pacers, whose Game 5 against the Knicks drew a combined 10.9 across TNT (9.4) and truTV (1.45).

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