UI prof: The ‘Caitlin Clark Effect’ is difficult to quantify

IOWA CITY — As University of Iowa basketball star Caitlin Clark is playing her final games of her college career in the NCAA tournament, the economic and sociological impact of her career on and off the court is still being assessed — by one estimate, into tens of millions of dollars.

UI Business Analytics Professor Jeff Ohlmann says his research into the so-called Caitlin Clark Effect doesn’t attempt to put a dollar figure on her impact on the university, the state, or the sport, but instead zeroes in on things that can be measured.

“The research that I’ve done is kind of focused on attendance numbers, and on ticket prices, and just information from secondary market,” Ohlmann says. “The reach of it is quite wide. If you think about just the eyeballs that watch on television, the clicks that you have on the internet, people driving to games.”

Plus, there’s all of the merchandising, including sales of black-and-gold t-shirts and jerseys emblazoned with the number 22. Even country music superstar Tim McGraw wore a Caitlin Clark jersey on-stage during his concert in Des Moines last week.

Ohlmann compares the “economic fervor” surrounding Clark’s rise to fame alongside other female celebrities like Beyonce or Taylor Swift, noting, it’s not been a male-dominated economy for some time.

“Women have disposable income and they have interests,” Ohlmann says. “What’s really great is to see an athlete like Caitlin Clark bringing attention, not where she’s just a women’s basketball star, but she’s a basketball star, and getting attention not just from women and young girls, but actually young boys and men — and everybody.”

A report released by Common Sense Institute Iowa, what’s billed as a “non-partisan research organization dedicated to the protection and promotion of Iowa’s economy,” says “Clarkonomics” has generated more than $82-million in increased community and state consumer spending.

Again, Ohlmann doesn’t try to attach a figure to Clark’s appeal, and he doubts her meteoric rise in popularity will fizzle once the NCAA tournament ends — along with her college career — as she joins the WNBA. The question remains, will Hawkeye women’s basketball games sell out next season and will interest in the sport thrive after Clark leaves Iowa City?

“I’m optimistic to think that would maintain, but at the same time, to be realistic, it probably will wane a little bit as she moves on, but I don’t think it’ll return to pre-Caitlin levels,” Ohlmann says. “I would anticipate that it will settle in at a kind of a stationary level of somewhere in between.”

He calls Clark a “generational talent” but remains confident a strong following has been cemented in Iowa women’s basketball, and that the dedication to Hawkeye hoops will continue long after she’s headed to the pros.