ESPN Elevating WNBA Draft Coverage With Historic Class

The WNBA plans to capitalize on the exploding interest in women’s basketball as it prepares to market one of its most anticipated draft classes, headlined by Caitlin Clark.

Clark, Angel Reese, Cameron Brink and Kamilla Cardoso were among the top players in ESPN’s 2020 recruiting class. Four years later, that quartet will all be attending Monday’s WNBA draft (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). They bring with them unparalleled collegiate accolades, an online following of nearly 5.5 million on Instagram alone and the potential to permanently uplift professional women’s basketball. (UConn’s Paige Bueckers, the No. 1 player in the 2020 class, elected to stay at UConn for a fifth year.)

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“Caitlin aside … I don’t know if we have ever seen an entire class that has this much attention off the floor,’’ Hall of Famer and ESPN women’s basketball analyst Rebecca Lobo told reporters via Zoom last Thursday. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the incredible skill they bring on the floor, she said.

To leverage this year’s draft class, the WNBA began its marketing push earlier than ever, hoping to grab fans as they watched the NCAA Tournament in record numbers. A big part of that effort was luring fans to Monday’s telecast of the draft with plans to introduce them to everything the league has to offer. This season, the W will put the Indiana Fever and their first overall pick on national TV for 36 of their 40 games as the spotlight follows Clark to the pros. Indiana—and 2023 No. 1 overall pick Aliyah Boston—was only shown on ESPN once last year.

The Fever will be on Disney’s family of networks (ABC, ESPN and ESPN2) eight times and NBA TV 13 times. This will be the first time ESPN has the WNBA Countdown crew at the draft, something that has been discussed internally since October. After a breakout performance during the NCAA Tournament, Elle Duncan, Andraya Carter and Chiney Ogwumike, who hosted ESPN’s women’s college basketball studio show, will all be on site as well.

The broadcast will also feature cameras inside Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Washington’s draft rooms. Even Jake from State Farm will be there, as brands feed into—and off of—women’s basketball’s growing momentum.

“ESPN is going to deliver with a show, unlike anything they’ve ever produced before.” WNBA CMO Phil Cook said in an interview. “They recognize the moment.”

Fans are returning to the draft in person for the first time since 2016; the league sold its 1,000 tickets for the event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 15 minutes.

Last year’s draft drew an average of 572,000 viewers on ESPN, up 42% from 2022. Once again, expect Clark & Co. to claim another record. And befitting a league induction ceremony, this is only the beginning.

“I think as the sport grows, we have to be realistic about how the draft can grow with it,” Sara Gaiero, vice president of production at ESPN, told reporters Thursday.

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