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Caitlin Clark Needs Jerry Maguire

Unless you've been lying in a fetal position on the couch regarding the upcoming elections, you know about Caitlin Clark, the women’s basketball player from the University of Iowa who is leading women’s basketball on its trajectory for greatness in American sports.

Yes, she is the poster child for growth, but women’s basketball enthusiasm has increased over the last few years while men’s has declined. Now, once again, we women are faced with the issue of following the money that has held us back for centuries.

Here are some stats for context:

  • The women’s finals surpassed the men’s finals for the first time ever this year, with 18 million viewers for the women's finals compared to 14 million for the men's.

  • Increased interest has been growing for years, starting in the late 2010s and picking up speed over the last decade.

  • There has been a huge surge in merchandise sales for women’s basketball. However, TV coverage and ad dollars have not risen at the same rate as viewerships.

I watched some videos of the women arriving for the draft pick, and despite many of these amazing athletes teetering into the event wearing heels as high as the hoops and walking as if they were five in their mother’s heels, they were amazing. All shapes and sizes. Diverse. Getting off buses, not out of limos, and making me proud. So exciting. And, they cheered for each other, something you never see in watching the men’s draft event. So proud. So proud.

We heard that Caitlin was wearing Prada. And, my heart started to sink. As each woman arrives, in their red carpet splendor, dressed by designers trying out new options for more than pretty faces selling their wares, I could see the handwriting on the wall. "Deep breath," I told myself. I just hope they stay true to what they want to wear, rather than what others want to see them wear. Moving right along.

The room was filled with women. The announcer. Coaches. Fans, and the fabulous potential picks.

In the center of it all was Caitlin, the woman who not only has broken every record for points scored (both men’s and women’s) but also for assists. Yep, the sisterhood of helping each other is not lost on women’s basketball. No one has ever led in both scoring and assists in basketball. Ever. She does.

Wait for it.

She is picked first, and then we hear what she will be paid. It’s a four-year contract worth $338,535 for all four years. And the fourth year is an option. So she will make $76,535 her first year. Please do not come back at me with endorsements. Don’t even think of doing that.

There is a moment in the fabulous film Jerry Maguire where Tom Cruise is negotiating on behalf of his client, where he says they will walk away. Then there is the moment when Cuba Gooding demands dollars reflective of his greatness. And, so it goes.

I say to women out there: Follow the money. Or, as Cuba Gooding says, “Show me the money!”

Where was her agent? Where was Caitlin’s voice saying, “I will not play for that little amount of money, and neither should my teammates”? Women finally did it in Hollywood, and it worked. Where are the coaches demanding better? Where are the rest of us saying, “don’t even think of not fixing this now”? We have agency. We all have it. But do not let this moment be another media blitz of ‘oh no,’ and then fade away into the distance. The fault for this lies on so many doorsteps, including our own.

ESPN is filled with men; management, commentators; men everywhere. Women’s sports are coming into their own, but the media and advertisers, still predominantly male, have a vested interest in keeping men’s sports at the forefront. Advertising is all about following the money. Women make most of the purchases of goods and services. We have agency. It’s time to take a little extra time to let advertisers and networks know what we will and will not tolerate.

Enough. Enough. Enough.

-- Christine Merser, Founder, Blue 2 Media


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