The Class of 2024 covers the Sparks-Mercury WNBA game.
June 13, 2024

Caitlin Clark's arrival transforms Indiana Fever and sports media coverage

Gracie Rawlings

Washington Post columnist Candace Buckner scrolled the front page of The Indianapolis Star less than 24 hours after the Indiana Pacers made the second round of the NBA playoffs for the first time in a decade. 

However, the cover did not feature pictures of head coach Rick Carlisle or headlines about point guard Tyrese Haliburton’s double-double. Instead, the words “Caitlin Clark ready for WNBA debut tonight: 'This is the pros. This is my job.’” sat at the top of the website. 

Because the WNBA’s No. 1 overall draft pick is not just a storyline; she is the narrative. 

“I don’t think in the history of online print journalism for a major publication has there ever been the lead story on the front page about a WNBA preseason game, said Buckner, a 2001 SJI alum and former IndyStar writer. “That is how she is changing everything around her.” 

Amid the rise of women’s sports, specifically basketball, Clark–who was drafted by the Indiana Fever after her team lost to South Carolina in the 2024 women’s NCAA championship–has led the way. There’s little debate about Clark’s role as a significant point of interest as the WNBA season gets underway.

But as a sports columnist for The Washington Post, Buckner views the game a bit differently than most fans do. 

“I don’t root for teams,” Buckner said. “I root for stories because I write about them. But I am excited about this historic moment because if she is this transcendent of a player, you want to be there to witness her first real game in the WNBA. Just like people were there for LeBron James in 2003. Just like people were there for Victor Wembanyama in 2023, people will be there for Caitlin Clark.” 

Although Clark is just stepping into her life in the WNBA, IndyStar sports director Nat Newell knew things were bound to change before she arrived in Indianapolis. 

The Fever, which has not made the WNBA playoffs since 2016 and has won just 30 of its 100 games over the last four seasons, has now had No. 1 picks in the last two drafts, using its 2024 No. 1 to take Clark, the Naismith Women’s College Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons. 

Now, in Clark’s inaugural season with the Fever, The IndyStar will be the focal point of coverage. There is little doubt that things will be different, with Newell saying there will be adjustments in terms of travel and staffing to accommodate the interest that Clark has brought  with her after her four seasons at Iowa.

“Once we realized there was a chance for Caitlin Clark to be drafted by the Fever, that just changed everything,” Newell said. “We’re traveling with the Fever on the road to start the year, and we will also have three people at the home opener, which we certainly wouldn’t have had at a home exhibition opener for the Fever if Caitlin Clark weren’t here.” 

Since Clark’s arrival and the IndyStar’s change in coverage, Newell said he has watched the Fever’s traffic increase significantly. He said he also believes it has led to an increase in overall readership year over year. 

The story Buckner saw on the front page, plus three others about Clark, were all among the top four stories on The IndyStar the day after the Fever’s first preseason game. 

“I don’t have a problem saying there is more reader interest in Caitlin Clark and an exhibition game than there was with a Pacers’ playoff game,” Newell said. “And who would have thought that was possible?” 

But Caitlin Clark has made it so.  “We're dealing with the biggest story in sports here,” Newell said. 

Gracie Rawlings will intern at The Oklahoman this summer.

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