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Can female athletes like college basketball's Caitlin Clark get paid on par with men?

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Last night's women's NCAA tournament action was really one for the books. Superstar Caitlin Clark had 41 points as she led her Iowa Hawkeyes over rivals and last year's champions, LSU, 94-87. Iowa joins UConn, South Carolina and North Carolina State in the Final Four this Saturday. But even with the exciting gameplay, women's sports have historically not been able to cash in on big sponsorship deals compared to men. But is all that now changing? Joining us now is Laura Correnti, founder and CEO of Deep Blue Sports + Entertainment, an agency focused on women's sports. Laura, I'm looking at a bunch of different sports websites, and women's college basketball is on the front page, the first thing you see. So how can women's sports take that and build momentum?

LAURA CORRENTI: Well, that right there, A, is a moment unto itself. You know, we like to say at Deep Blue, women's sports aren't just having a moment. It is the moment. And a few signals we look at are fan demand as well as advertising demand and then, more importantly, the media's response. And so what we are seeing is an absolute increase in viewership. We're very curious to see what the ratings are from last night's doubleheader, one for the ages, and instant classic basketball games within the NCAA Women's Tournament ahead of the championship weekend in Cleveland, and advertising demand is meeting it. What we're hearing from Disney is that they were sold out of ad inventory going into the Final Four, and they'll be sold out in the championship rounds, with advertising revenue doubling from last year. So we're seeing fan demand there. We're seeing the advertising demand there. And now ultimately, we'll look to the media networks to see how, where and when they will meet this moment and ultimately look at bringing women's sports not just to the front page but into prime time.

MARTÍNEZ: So one of the things I've noticed, like, especially with women's college basketball, is that they're in the spotlight now, but when they move to the pros, it's almost as if these star athletes disappear. Same thing for women's Olympic soccer. Everyone knows Megan Rapinoe and all her teammates, but then when they go to the pro leagues, it's like they're gone for a while. So why does that happen?

CORRENTI: So I think there's a number of factors, visibility and access being paramount to that. And just this past year, the NWSL announced a landmark deal, a $240 million media rights deal that brought National Women's Soccer League to five networks, creating more access and discoverability, certainly, to the league. But if we're looking at this current tournament as a proxy, when Caitlin Clark declared for the WNBA draft, we instantly saw the Indiana Fever's average ticket price double. That is where Caitlin Clark is projected to go in the No. 1 draft pick this coming season. Now, that said, we're also hearing from some of the different teams across the WNBA that they are also seeing bumps in ticket sales and interest in terms of, you know, near sellout for when Caitlin Clark comes to town. We're also hearing from the media networks that they're looking to increase their coverage around the Indiana's schedule this year. So there's certainly been a response to this increased attention from both fans, but also we're seeing advertisers come in.

MARTÍNEZ: Clearly, she moves the needle. Just in the last few seconds I have, why isn't women athletes - why aren't they paid as much as men? Is it just basically because we don't put as much importance on them?

CORRENTI: Well, I do think we're starting to see an increase, both in terms of certainly pay equity deals that are happening. Obviously, you mentioned the U.S. women's national team, landing that. Most recently we're seeing the fight for that, actually, around the world. We are seeing, you know, sponsorship deals increase here as well. And ultimately, you know, what we're seeing is if you build it, they will come.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Laura Correnti, founder and CEO of Deep Blue Sports + Entertainment, an agency focused on women's sports. Laura, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Devan Schwartz
Devan Schwartz is an editor for NPR's Morning Edition. He is an experienced audio professional who, in addition to his work with NPR, has worked with such organizations as BBC, Slate, the New York Times, and various public radio stations.

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