Nearly every time the scoreboard showed the crowd at Thursday night’s game between No. 2 Iowa and No. 9 Virginia Tech, a little girl appeared with a sign for her favorite player.
More often than not, that player was Iowa’s All-American Caitlin Clark, who scored 44 points in their 80-76 win over the Hokies at Spectrum Center. Clark took several minutes after the game to sign autographs for these same girls.
- “It really is hard to wrap your head around what we’re doing for women’s basketball,” Clark told reporters after the game.
State of play: 15,196 people showed up for women’s college basketball on a Thursday night in Charlotte. The atmosphere rivaled that of the Final Four, Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks told reporters after the game.
- “I’ve been in this arena before when Steph Curry was here, and it wasn’t this loud,” Brooks said with a smile of the Charlottean and NBA superstar.
Why it matters: The inaugural Ally Tipoff, as the game was called, highlighted what can happen when a city invests in women’s sports: A lot of people show up.
- “We hope we helped women’s basketball move forward tonight,” Brooks said.
Of note: This is the largest regular season crowd for a women’s college basketball game in North Carolina history, per the Charlotte Sports Foundation, the nonprofit that hosted the event.
Flashback: CSF organized the event in five months. The idea was to build on what they started with the Jumpman Invitational, which also takes place at Spectrum Center, by creating an elevated and equal atmosphere for both men’s and women’s basketball programs, from swag and their locker room experience, to a custom court and financial investment.
- “If you have the product, people will show up,” Miller Yoho CSF director of communications and marketing tells Axios.
By the numbers: Each school received $150,000. Iowa received an additional $50,000 for travel. CSF will host the second Jumpman Invitational next month, and each participating school (Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Oklahoma) will receive at least $200,000, as the Charlotte Business Journal reported.
- “Investing in women’s sports is common sense,” Yoho says.
Between the lines: Charlotte had a WBNA franchise once before. You may recall the Charlotte Sting, which folded in early 2006. It was under the same ownership as the Bobcats (today’s Hornets).
- Charlotte is being considered for a WNBA franchise and a showing like this indicates the city could support high-caliber women’s basketball.