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WNBA Expansion: Commissioner Cathy Engelbert wants to add two teams in the near future, so which cities make sense?

Just before the 2022 WNBA season, the Las Vegas Aces waived Mya Hollingshed, the No. 8 overall pick from that year’s draft, while the Minnesota Lynx severed ties with 2020 Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield. Both players have been victims of the league’s brutal roster crunch, which has worsened in recent years due to CBA changes and an improving talent pool.

This spring, the problem seems to have come to a head, and everyone from fans to star players are calling for changes.

“Under no circumstances should we have a league where the best draft picks aren’t on a roster,” said Los Angeles Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike.

Even in a perfect world, there are only 144 roster spots available in the league – 12 in each of the 12 teams. But due to salary cap concerns, many teams only have 11 players, making it even harder to earn a spot.

“I think it really resonated this year because this is year 3 with the new CBA,” Stewart said. “Now that these contracts are being negotiated and renegotiated, they’re all getting a little bit more expensive, I’d say. That creates fewer squad spots and fewer spots in the league in general.”

Regardless of the situation, the most obvious option when you run out of space is to expand.

One way is to add a few roster spots to each team. This would open up more possibilities for players while also creating more development paths. An underdiscussed aspect of the league’s roster issues is that in a minor league with a short season, most coaches and GMs prefer veterans who can jump in and play right away. As a result, young players who have potential but need time to grow are often overlooked and forced to improve their games abroad or on their own.

However, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert is in favor of adding new franchises to the league. Notably, two new expansion teams over the next few years, although no exact timeline has been given.

“We’re changing the economy of the league,” Engelbert said. “We want to bring new owners into the league in the longer term. We have to find the right time for this. We do a lot of data analysis. … We will continue this analysis and hopefully sometime this summer we will be able to say more. But we want to think about it.”

“We don’t want to jeopardize the momentum we have, but we understand the issue with squad sizes,” Engelbert continued. “But when you’re a country the size and scale of ours and you’re only in 12 cities, growing the league is also a way of doing that. Then open roster slots. I don’t think it’s about rosters per team. It’s about more opportunities for more players.”

At this point, it seems clear that the league will expand in the near future. But the how, when and where remains to be clarified. With that in mind, let’s look at some cities and/or regions that would make sense for a new WNBA team.

The Bay Area

This is perhaps the most obvious option for a number of reasons, but mostly because there is one an ownership group actively committed to bringing a team to the region. The group, led by former WNBA All-Star Alana Beard, has garnered support from local politicians. Last October, the Oakland City Council unanimously approved a term sheet that would secure Oakland Arena (formerly the Oracle, where the Golden State Warriors played) as its future home.

In addition, the WNBA players’ association sent a tweet in January, that seemed to point to a team coming to the Bay Area. Responding to Delta Airlines, the WNBPA wrote: “I’m just confirming that you also fly to Nashville, Toronto and the Bay Area, right?” #BetOnWomen #ExpandTheLeague.” That’s not a guarantee, of course, but it’s worth mentioning.

Finally, in this part of California, there is a high level of support for all levels of basketball, from the Warriors to the Stanford University women’s basketball team, which won the 2021 NCAA national championship, to the high school level. A WNBA team would be a good fit.

Toronto

Like the Bay Area, Toronto was included in the WNBPA’s tweet, which didn’t feel random. And like the Bay Area, Toronto is a basketball-mad city. Just look no further than the thousands of fans who have packed “Jurassic Park” to parties during the Raptors’ playoff games over the past several years. There appears to be an eager fanbase supporting the team — rapper Drake is on board — and it would make sense for the WNBA to take root in one of North America’s biggest cities.

There have been some half-hearted attempts to set up a community of owners in recent years, but none have gotten very far. Raptors President Masai Ujiri hinted at the possibility of a WNBA team in an interview earlier this month, but declined to elaborate on the issue.

“The game is going global and I’m very interested in BAL [Basketball African League] in Africa. The WNBA. There are many things that fascinate us here,” said Ujiri. “I think we’re going to keep talking about how we can make this franchise even bigger in our mindset. Whether it’s facilities or just thinking about the game more globally, that’s always on my mind.”

While there are some really positive aspects to adding a team in Toronto, it’s worth mentioning one particular challenge that might arise: travel. All WNBA teams currently fly coaches to maintain competitive balance, and this often results in flight delays and complicated planning. Adding an international team to the mix without addressing the travel issue could prove difficult.

Nashville

Nashville may not have quite as strong a case as the above two cities, but it was included in the WNBPA tweet and the city has been actively preparing for the possibility. Last October, the Nashville Sports Authority Board commissioned a market study to assess the potential viability of a WNBA franchise.

“It’s time to do something to support the women and girls of Davidson County,” said Councilman Nancy VanReece. “We conduct the appropriate market study so that each potential ownership group has the data they need to make decisions. This is my personal opinion, but I would like to see it in the city auditorium.”

Nashville does not currently have a professional basketball team but does have the Tennessee Titans (NFL), Nashville Predators (NHL), and Nashville SC (MLS). However, there are several Division I college programs in the area, including Vanderbilt and Belmont, whose women’s program surprisingly made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament this year.

While the city would appear to support a team, finding an ownership group and arena can be a challenge. On that front, a January report is worth noting Tennessee suggested that the city might consider adding a women’s professional soccer team to the NWSL instead of a WNBA team.

Philadelphia

Adding an expansion team is no easy process, no matter the sport or league, and the work often begins years in advance. So it’s worth trying to find the breadcrumbs that suggest which cities might be a possibility, rather than throwing them away indiscriminately.

Case Study, Philadelphia. During an interview with a Philly radio station last March, Washington Mystics guardian Natasha Cloud had the following to say:

“It’s not necessarily a secret — I’m told that — we’re trying to get a Philly team. It’s been in the works for a year and a half. Put a little pressure, not just on the city, but on the [WNBA], to. Our thing – for us to progress, our league has to grow. We must have more than 144 jobs. […] Listen, it’s in the works. I’m trying my best to bring a team back to Philly.”

Again, the league would need to find an ownership group and an arena, which are never guarantees. Still, it’s clear Philadelphia is in, and with good reason. Few cities have a deeper connection to basketball and its professional sports teams than Philadelphia. There’s no question that a WNBA franchise would grab the attention of fans — it may not always be positive, but they would be there and they would care.

https://www.cbssports.com/wnba/news/wnba-expansion-commissioner-cathy-engelbert-wants-to-add-two-teams-in-near-future-so-what-cities-make-sense/ WNBA Expansion: Commissioner Cathy Engelbert wants to add two teams in the near future, so which cities make sense?

Justin Scacco

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