Basketball-Fans flood the stands for Clark’s WNBA debut

By Thomson Reuters May 14, 2024 | 7:05 PM

By Amy Tennery

UNCASVILLE, Connecticut (Reuters) – The Caitlin Clark era in the WNBA began to fanfare and a sold-out crowd on Tuesday, as fans piled into Mohegan Sun Arena to witness what they believe is a turning point for women’s basketball.

Fans wove through buzzing casino games and lined up outside the gates more than two hours before Clark’s regular season debut with the Indiana Fever on the road against the Connecticut Sun.

The league hopes it hit the jackpot with Clark, who broke the all-time collegiate scoring record in her final season at Iowa and became appointment viewing in households across the United States.

“It’s so emotional. It’s so awesome,” said Candace Crabtree, a former college coach who traveled from Boston with her wife and 8-year-old daughter to see the game.

“It’s just an amazing experience because as an athlete myself and coach, we didn’t have the same type of exposure.”

Ticket sales have surged across the WNBA on resale platforms, with Clark’s celebrity helping to bring a bigger spotlight to the women’s league, which has long trailed in popularity compared to its men’s counterpart.

Veterans and fans said the change was apparent at Mohegan Sun Arena, which had not sold out a home opener since 2003.

Fans wearing Clark jerseys crowded into seats while framed pictures of the six-foot sharpshooter were up for bid at a silent auction alongside photos of New England sports heroes like Tom Brady and Larry Bird.

“The WNBA always gets knocked by people. We get it. We hear the jokes. But I think this is the door opening,” said Raul Santana, a Sun season ticket holder for five years who works at the Mohegan Sun casino.

The ice-veined Clark showed no sign of nerves before tip-off, telling a throng of reporters she was simply excited to take the court.

“There’s just a different buzz in the air,” she said. “That’s what women’s basketball should be.”

(Reporting by Amy Tennery in Uncasville, Connecticut, with additional reporting by Hussein Waaile; Editing by Tom Hogue)