Phoenix prepares to welcome Caitlin Clark against Mercury | Phoenix New Times

The Caitlin Clark Show hits Phoenix on Sunday. Tickets aren't cheap

Clark is the biggest sensation in women's hoops, and she makes her only regular-season stop in Arizona this weekend.
Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever visit the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday, and ticket prices are exorbitant.
Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever visit the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday, and ticket prices are exorbitant. Harry How/Getty Images
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The Caitlin Clark Show is almost here.

This weekend, downtown Phoenix will welcome the newest sensation in women’s basketball when the Phoenix Mercury host the Indiana Fever on Sunday at noon. The Footprint Center is nearly sold out for the game as fans clamor to catch an up-close glimpse of Clark, the rookie phenom and former college standout whose popularity has buoyed the women’s game at both the NCAA and WNBA levels.

Clark’s magnetism is undeniable. WNBA television viewership records fall with nearly every game the 22-year-old plays. Though she hardly courts it, controversy follows her constantly, placing her at the nexus of endless social commentary about race, gender and privilege.

Phoenix is the latest stop on a hype train that’s been running full speed since this spring, when Clark broke the NCAA scoring record — for men and women — and led Iowa to a second consecutive title game. Thanks to the Valley’s passionate base of women’s basketball fans, and especially due to simmering tensions with Mercury Star player Diana Taurasi, the pit stop won’t be a quiet one.

Clark has been a box-office draw ever since her junior season in 2023, when she broke out while leading the Hawkeyes in a thrilling run to the national championship game. Clark repeated the feat during her senior season, breaking the NCAA scoring record while weathering unprecedented scrutiny for any player in the women’s game. The 2024 NCAA women’s final, which Iowa lost to a dominant South Carolina squad, was watched by more than 20 million people. Afterward, Clark declared for the WNBA draft, eventually going first overall to the Fever in the most-watched WNBA draft ever.

Put simply, fans want to watch her, and no one is more excited to see her play live than the members of the Phoenix Iowa Club. From the Valley, some 1,500 miles from Iowa, club members were thrilled to see one of their own bring the Hawkeye State to the national stage. The club has reserved more than 120 seats for Sunday’s matchup and will host a pregame meet and greet at The Ainsworth on 2nd and Jefferson streets before trekking to Footprint Center. It's Clark’s only regular-season visit to the Valley, though she may pass through again when Phoenix hosts the 2024 WNBA All-Star Game in July.

“Being able to see somebody who came from just down the street in West Des Moines, Iowa, going and having the career that she had at Iowa and making a name for herself and then getting to see her in a pro setting in a city that I live in that is 1,400 miles away … it’s surreal,” Tiffanie Peterman, the club’s vice president, said. “And it’s going to be very mind-blowing to be in that venue watching our hometown, home state girl play.”

click to enlarge Diana Taurasi runs onto the court
Mercury star Diana Taurasi, who could lay a legitimate claim to the title of best women's player ever, predicted Caitlin Clark would face a rough transition to the pros.
Barry Gossage/Phoenix Mercury

A tough adjustment

Non-Iowa partisans may not harbor such warm feelings toward the hotly debated Clark. After all, Taurasi — Phoenix’s star player and a legitimate claimant to the title of greatest women’s player of all time — was one of many veterans to cast doubt on Clark’s ability to adjust immediately to the pros.

As Clark captured the sports world’s attention this spring, Taurasi predicted during an ESPN Final Four broadcast that reality was coming quickly for Clark. The comments struck some as sour grapes, though Taurasi later clarified that she believed Clark would face a steep learning curve but would eventually adjust just as Taurasi did when she came out of the University of Connecticut two decades ago. Taurasi also took aim at fans and the media for blowing her comments out of proportion.

Whatever their proportion, they don’t seem to have been wrong. Though Clark has had standout games, she’s shooting a paltry 40% from the field as the Fever have limped to a 7-11 record entering Thursday. Still, the perception of enmity toward Clark from veteran players has persisted, exacerbated when Taurasi was named to the U.S. women’s national basketball team for this summer’s Paris Olympics and Clark was not.

Much of the discourse around Clark has been dominated by relative newcomers to the sport. But longtime Phoenix fans who love Taurasi and watched her take similar lumps as a rookie understand the point she was making.

“I don’t have a problem with what Diana said because she is a 20-year veteran of the league now. And so she knows what it’s like to have been a rookie,” Cheyenne Cook, a food service worker from the West Valley, said. “As someone who has met Diana at various Mercury events, I can tell you her on-court personality and her off-court personality seem to be two very different things … I’m sure she’s going to be tough if she’s paired up with Caitlin at any point during the game, but that’s just because she’s a ballplayer.”

Iowa fans tend to see things differently. To them, comments such as Taurasi’s — not to mention the many hard fouls Clark has endured, including from fellow rookie and former collegiate rival Angel Reese of the Chicago Sky — have not been taken well among the Clark faithful.

“She’s been nothing but a great representation of women’s athletics and Iowa athletics,” Peterman said of Clark. “That’s why I think it does feel personal to a lot of people when you have other people coming at her, making comments, shrugging her off.”

Caitlin Clark has been one of the most famous basketball players in the world since her junior year at Iowa.
John Mac/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Sky-high ticket prices

Taurasi may not initiate further drama on the court Sunday, but the energy in the arena should be more than enough to create a buzz on the court. While the Mercury typically sell tickets only for the Footprint Center’s lower bowl, the upper deck is available for the game against Clark and Indiana. The team also announced recently that it installed new lower-level seats to account for increased ticket demand.

Limited tickets remain, and what's left is expensive. As of Wednesday, resales in the lower bowl were priced as high as $1,000 while at least one courtside seat was listed for $5,000. As with many of Clark’s other stops on the WNBA circuit, expanding ticket availability hasn’t been enough to avoid sky-high prices. Some fans were priced out of seeing their Mercury take on the most hyped player in the league.

“On average, I will pay $60 or $70 for relatively decent seats,” said Cook, who chose not to attend Sunday’s game because of the price to get in. “These tickets were very, very high.”

Monster resale values also put Mercury season ticket holders in a unique position. They can attend one of just 20 regular-season Mercury home games and watch one of the most famous basketball players on the planet. Or they could make a killing reselling their seats.

Kat Carlson, a season ticket holder for the past three years, said she saw tickets being resold in the row in front of her section 114 seats for several times face value. At $400 per ticket, Carlson said if she resold her two tickets at the same price, the profit would pay for all of next season’s package. She chose to hold on to her seats to see Clark but also to avoid contributing to an ongoing issue at games: empty seats due to resale issues.

In WNBA hot spots such as Connecticut and Las Vegas, Clark’s arrival priced tickets as much as $100 above face value on the resale market. The capacity of the Footprint Center — more than 18,000 seats, compared with 10,000 for Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Arena — means it can handle more demand. But Carlson did not want to jeopardize the spirit of the environment.

“I’ve been to games before that claimed they were sold out, but there were big swaths of seats still open, and nobody was sitting in them during games,” Carlson said. “And I thought, well I don’t want to be part of the problem.”

click to enlarge Brittney Griner
Caitlin Clark may be the latest and biggest star in women's basketball, but the Mercury boast homegrown names such as Brittney Griner.
Christian Petersen / Staff / Getty Images

A growing fanbase

Carlson does, however, expect quite a different energy with more Iowa fans, Fever fanatics and Clark devotees filling the seats on Sunday. “I would guess it will be the most people who have attended a Mercury game ever,” Carlson said. Already this season, Carlson and her partner, who are gay, have noticed quite a different crowd at Mercury games than in the past.

“My partner and I have been tongue in cheek commenting about it all week,” she said, “kind of looking around at new fans and all the different types of people that come to games now and saying, 'Remember when this was just lesbians?'”

The Mercury are quite the draw in their own right, of course. They have one of the more devoted fan bases in the WNBA, dubbed the X-Factor, and look like playoff contenders at 8-8 through Wednesday. In Taurasi and center Britney Griner, they boast two of the league’s household names. In Kahleah Copper, they have a breakout star who will join Taurasi and Griner on Team USA in Paris.

But the addition of Clark to the mix raises the stakes. It’s a matchup of the quiet newcomer versus the brash vet, the upstart Fever versus the stalwart Mercury. More than 17,000 people will be on hand to witness the spectacle.

The circus arrives Sunday, and it’s the hottest ticket in town.
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