Written by: Dan Gladman

Follow: @dgontheroad

The Madness this year will be unlike any other.

The best player will dominate every game with accurate long-distance bombing, an ability to find open teammates for scores, and an unwavering enthusiasm and leadership that translates into victories almost all the time.

This performance will be a preview of what’s to come – the new face of basketball.

Her name is Caitlin Clark and she plays for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes. Here’s what’s going to happen:

1) While electrifying the women’s NCAA Tournament, she will set the women’s record for points in a season. She is already the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer, for women or men.

2) Her team will go on a run. They may not win the title or even make the Final Four, but they will win some games and spur on the highest ever TV audiences for the women’s tournament. In fact, there will be games where the women’s event will have more viewers than the men’s.

3) Clark, who has already declared for the WNBA Draft, will be the first pick by the Indiana Fever on April 15 in Brooklyn.

4) Barring injury, she will have a dynamic first pro season, possibly winning Rookie of the Year and likely leading the Fever to the Playoffs for the first time since 2016.

5) She will play for Team USA at the Paris Games and win a gold medal. The Americans have won the gold medal at every Olympics since 1996, and have not lost a game at the Olympics since 1992. Clark will join a team loaded with talent and immediately become a force to be reckoned with.

6) She will lead women’s basketball to the forefront of professional sports and marketing, at least in North America, like no player has done since Michael Jordan transformed men’s hoops starting in the late 1980s.

The Caitlin Clark Effect is just ramping up and seems to be unstoppable, much like the player herself. Like Jordan, her impact off the court will be felt by generations of sports fans.

Sports Business Journal reported that the average listed price for Indiana Fever regular season tickets rose 109% on news of Clark’s decision to turn pro after the tournament. The team’s website traffic spiked 180%.

Clark’s roster of corporate sponsorships would make any NBA player blush. Thanks to name, image, likeness (NIL), she was able to earn north of USD $900,000 during the school year while representing companies like Nike, Gatorade, State Farm and Buick.

One look at the TV ratings explains this emerging phenomenon. The game between Iowa and Ohio State on March 3 drew 3.39 millions viewers on Fox Sports. Sports Media Watch reports that it was the most watched women’s game since Tennessee played Connecticut in January, 1999. Further, it is the second-most viewed college basketball game this season, women’s or men’s. Only a game between Arizona and Michigan State in November had more viewers. By comparison, a recent game between Duke and North Carolina registered 3.2 million viewers. (These numbers are courtesy of Sportsnaut.com).

The Associated Press wrote that the Iowa-Ohio State game had more viewers than the NBA game between Boston and Golden State that same day.

The real test will come when Clark is in the WNBA. The league’s popularity is already growing. Her presence could multiply that growth. Market Watch reports that TV viewership for an average WNBA game was 505,000 in 2023, up from 379,000 the year before. The league is poised.

“This will certainly be a moment we’ll look back and say you know it was a game-changer for us,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told Sports Business Journal upon the news of Clark’s announcement to go pro.

It was 1979 when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird met in the NCAA championship game, a prelude to their NBA battles. The pair would define basketball and the sport’s marketing in the 1980s, setting the table for Jordan’s explosive rise starting a few years later.

Clark has a foil in Louisiana State’s Angel Reese, who has yet to declare her post-tournament intentions. Reese and LSU defeated Clark and Iowa in the 2023 championship game. A rematch this year would surprise no one and fuel the competitive fire that will no doubt carry over into the WNBA and provide the league with new legions of fans.

Additionally, Clark’s marketing opportunities could include coverage of the NBA on TV. Much like Candace Parker’s star role on TNT’s Inside the NBA or TSN's Kia Nurse, Clark could turn up as a sportscaster on NBA broadcasts, as the W’s regular season runs from May to September.

Her presence on NBA coverage would further the burgeoning WNBA awareness and increase her own brand. Many would argue her presence might elevate NBA viewership on TV, which has slipped since Jordan’s era, but remained at a consistent level. She has potential star power to help both the men’s and women’s game.

Making basketball prognostications at this time of year is anybody’s game. The appeal of March Madness is its unpredictability and the games themselves should follow suit. What is ironclad is the impact Caitlin Clark is about to have on the sport. Women’s basketball has quickly been growing these past three years. Her future achievements seem to be a mortal lock and the sport’s ascension is etched in stone.