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Caitlin Clark’s debut draws largest WNBA audience in two decades, beating NHL playoffs head-to-head

By Hadas Gold, CNN

(CNN) — The Caitlin Clark era in the WNBA kicked off in a big way Tuesday night.

The season opener between the Indiana Fever and Connecticut Sun drew an average of 2.1 million viewers on ESPN2, ESPN+ and Disney+, making it the most watched WNBA game in more than two decades. The matchup also marked the first time Disney+ has streamed a live sports game, peaking with an average of 2.3 million viewers, ESPN said.

The game, which saw the Sun outshine the Fever in a 92-71 victory, drew the largest WNBA audience since the Los Angeles Sparks and Houston Comets faced off in 2001, according to Sports Illustrated.

Clark’s debut outdrew the competing NHL men’s Stanley Cup playoff game between the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers that aired during the same period Tuesday evening on the flagship ESPN. The NHL game drew an average of 2 million viewers and peaked with 3.2 million viewers, the network said.

Clark has been breaking records since her meteoric rise in the NCAA.

Last month, the NCAA women’s basketball National Championship matchup between Clark’s Iowa Hawkeyes and the South Carolina Gamecocks drew 18.9 million viewers, smashing television ratings records.

The game was not only the most watched women’s college basketball game in history, but it also surpassed the viewership of any basketball game, including both men’s and professional, since 2019, according to Nielsen.

The Clark phenomenon continued weeks later, when the WNBA draft, in which she was a No. 1 overall pick, drew an average of 2.4 million viewers, shattering viewership records and far surpassing the previous all-time high of 601,000 viewers in 2004.

Clark and the Fever are set to face off against the New York Liberty on Thursday in Indianapolis.

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