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WNBA: Does the “W” Change the Game?

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Julia Tolton
Caitlin Clark (pictured in a 2024 Iowa game) has played a significant role in the recognition of female athletes.

In recent years, the WNBA has received huge additions to the association and recognition for female athletics. Many would contribute to the rise of talent and the newest draft classes. This year, the 2024 draft class consisted of stars like Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese, Cameron Brink, and Kamilla Kardoso. During the most recent NCAA tournament, women’s basketball made tremendous leaps in the acknowledgment of all female athletes. In the final game between Iowa and South Carolina, featuring superstars like Caitlin Clark and Kamilla Cardoso respectively, nearly 19 million viewers tuned in. This became the most-watched basketball game since 2019, including men’s and women’s at the collegiate and professional levels. Additionally, the championship became the most-watched, non-Olympic women’s sporting event of all time except for the 2015 Women’s World Cup Final.

When reflecting on her experiences, Scituate’s very own, former WNBA player, Tye’she Fluker says, “It was fun. It was different. I grew up watching the WNBA and when I got drafted, players that I loved were still playing, so it was pretty cool. I played with Lisa Leslie [after] I grew up watching her play.” “[There was] a lot of traveling [and being] able to wake up and do what I loved and get paid for it was the best part.”

Going into its 28th season, the WNBA consists of 12 teams in major cities all across the United States. By 2028, the association will expand to 14 teams. These are the first additions since the Los Angeles Sparks in 2008. The Golden State Valkyries will play out of San Francisco and participate in the upcoming 2025 season. The WNBA has also recently announced another expansion team in Toronto, Canada. A name has yet to be decided but they will play in the 2026 season.

When reflecting on the association’s growth, Fluker says, “ I think the opportunities have increased. The visibility and fan bases have grown. The players have a lot more autonomy and it just seems fun to see the growth since when I played.”

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Additionally, the WNBA has been receiving some huge improvements throughout the previous weeks. WNBA professionals on all 12 teams will be provided with charter flights by the continuously growing WNBA program. In previous seasons, these professional athletes were forced to go on commercial flights that can be dangerous and draw unnecessary attention to them. The WNBA announced that the flights will begin at the beginning of the 2024 season but there has been trouble scheduling them. So far, only a few teams have used charter flights for their games. The program has announced that all teams will have charter flights by May 21, 2024.

Many of the players have received remarkable endorsement deals. New York Liberty Star, Sabrina Ionescu released her first shoe, the Sabrina 1 with Nike in March of 2023. The shoe has gotten glowing reviews. NBA stars like Jrue Holiday from the Boston Celtics and Jordan Poole from the Washington Wizards have been seen wearing the shoe in games. Ionescu is expected to release another highly anticipated shoe, the Sabrina 2, on June 28, 2024.

Social Media has played a huge role in the recognition of female athletes. Fluker says, “The players are good players. So now that people have access to see it on multiple different platforms, different networks are picking it up as well. People have the ability to see something new.I think it’s always good to have platforms that show young girls people who look like them and show them different things that they can do that they probably wouldn’t have thought of. [It’s] another avenue for income that people wouldn’t usually expect women to do.”

WNBA rookie Caitlin Clark recently received a record-breaking, historical deal with Wilson. She will receive her own basketball line. Clark will become the first athlete to receive a signature line with the company since Michael Jordan in 1984.

Although all this recognition is incredibly beneficial for the WNBA and all female athletes, why hasn’t it happened until now? Since the WNBA was created in 1996, the association has consisted of extremely talented women but they were often overlooked by sports fans. Older talents such as Candace Parker and Sue Bird haven’t received nearly as much recognition as more recent draftees despite their incredible advancements in the game. Even though the two women are considered some of the best to ever play basketball, many wouldn’t even be able to recall their names.

Fluker says, “Some people never really tapped into it.” It doesn’t have to do with people not supporting women but rather it was never really publicized until now. Fluker ends by saying, “It’s progressing [just like] everything else.”