WNBA

Report: the WNBA would like to add two expansion teams by ’24

According to Chantel Jennings and Mike Vorkunov of the Athletic, the WNBA would like to find two cities for expansion by this seasons playoffs with the goal of the new teams starting play by the 2024 season. This development came as a result of their conversation with commissioner Cathy Engelbert.

Commissioner [Cathy] Englebert told The Athletic she hopes to identify two cities for an expansion franchise by the start of the WNBA playoffs in September or by year’s end at the latest. Those new teams could begin play as early as the 2024 season, she said.

Jennings/Vorkunov via The Athletic

The article goes on to detail the process the league is taking to determine which cities are good for expansion and I highly recommend you read it; but it is behind a paywall.

There is a very strong case for expansion with the WNBA as there are limited roster spots, with a more restrictive salary cap, that has led to some talented players being cut and it means that they have to sit out this season. Another solution that teams have taken to alleviate salary cap issues and roster space problems is suspending players who have other commitments at points throughout the season — that’s what Chicago did with Gabby Williams during the 2021 season. If the league does add two teams that will alleviate some of the roster crunch that we witnessed in the run up to this season.

According to The Athletic, the WNBA is expecting between $15 to $20 million for its expansion franchises.

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Potential expansion targets

According to The Athletic the league is extremely interested in Nashville, Oakland, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, and Toronto. All of these cities, except for Toronto, are close to women’s college basketball programs that have had success as well as have strong corporate bases to be able to draw sponsorships from.

As this is a PNW sports blog, I want to take a look at the expansion sites that will be in our region and become a part of the Seattle Storm’s future if they secure a bid.

Oakland, Calif.

Oakland began to make a serious push for a WNBA expansion franchise during the 2021 season. Back in July of that year the Coliseum Authority unanimously approved a non-binding term sheet with the African American Sports and Entertainment Group (the prospective ownership group) to play at Oakland Arena in the Coliseum complex. The Arena has lacked a anchor tenant since the Warriors moved across the Bay to San Francisco and it would be a good move for them to get a tenant back into the building.

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There has been a lot of excitement for the potential of WNBA basketball in the East Bay and they’ve got an ownership group that sounds like it’s invested in the idea of building a franchise in Oakland. With the loss of the Warriors, and Raiders — and the future of the Athletics in doubt — the ability to build a dedicated fanbase in the city is absolutely there. This is, honestly, my preferred landing site for one of the expansion franchises. Oakland has been absolutely shafted and any chance to help out a dedicated group of fans that have helped support Cal women’s basketball is an easy decision in my books.

Portland, Ore.

While Portland would be interesting, and really cut down on the Storm’s travel, I am extremely curious as to who Kirk Brown is. Brown is the billionaire who is interested in bringing the league back to the Rose City. The Portland Fire played for three seasons before the folded to the financial issues that plagued Paul Allen, the (at the time) Rose Garden, and their NBA counterparts the Trailblazers.

Now, the Garden is called the Moda Center and that is one site that could end up hosting an expansion franchise. The other is the neighboring 12,000 seat Veteran’s Coliseum that the WHL Winterhawks primarily use as their home venue. From a capacity standpoint, the Coliseum would be the better bet but it lacks the money making suites and club seats at the next door venue. And when you add in the fact that the neighboring Seattle Storm have had huge crowds since they’ve moved into the freshly opened Climate Pledge Arena, it makes sense for the league to think a new Portland franchise could draw well in the NBA sized building.

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San Francisco, Calif.

Now this one seems the most likely of the three. Warriors owner Joe Lacob bought the Golden State Warriors and helped build the sparkling new Chase Center in San Francisco; prior to his involvement in the NBA he was one of the investors in the WNBA’s competitor league, the ABA, in the late 1990s. San Francisco has an appetite for basketball and the city has a long history of supporting Cal and Stanford’s women’s basketball programs. It would make sense for the league to enter this market for the first time.

As for Lacob, it also makes sense for him to get as many dates as possible into Chase since it was privately financed. The ability to make back on the loans he took out to pay for the building makes too much sense. It would also make a lot of sense for the WNBA as the building has all of the amenities imaginable and should be able to draw a good chunk of revenue from it.

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