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The exquisite timing of the Valkyries entering WNBA, Bay Area

The exquisite timing of the Valkyries entering WNBA, Bay Area originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

There are dozens of professional sports executives in the Bay Area, and none have more cause for delight than the two whose team has yet to win a game.

Or to be fair, lost a game.

The Golden State Valkyries, who will be headquartered in Oakland but play in San Francisco, are a hot ticket in a league rapidly burning its way into the national consciousness.

The WNBA is experiencing a sharp rise in attendance and viewership, both of which demonstrate a freshly generated interest in the 27-year-old league. The Valkyries, led by franchise president Jess Smith and general manager Ohemaa Nyanin, officially join the W next spring.

“What is really powerful is that this has been a long time coming,” Smith said on NBC Sports Bay Area’s Dubs Talk podcast. “And yet what you're seeing is people feeling compelled to come in as a big fan for some reason, and star power is a big piece of that, right?

The WNBA always has had a wealth of talent, but it sometimes struggled to overcome Neanderthal gender-based perceptions and manufactured sociological barriers.

The Valkyries benefit from their affiliation with the Golden State Warriors, a globally popular team that has won four of the last nine NBA championships. No less beneficial is the franchise location. The Bay Area is more progressive than most parts of the country, so it is less affected by those perceptions and barriers.

The Valkyries sold more than 7,000 season-ticket deposits before the branding went public. Since that announcement less than three weeks ago, they have added more than 5,000 and are approaching 13,000. Chase Center seats 18,064, so both the lower and upper bowls will be at or near capacity.

“When you look at consumers and what they're looking to latch on to, they want to be a part of something from the beginning,” Smith said. “They want to feel connected to it, but they also want to feel connected to different athletes and what you're seeing with the star powers both from veterans you know getting more visibility you know with the growth of the league.”

Nearly every team in the WNBA can boast of stars on the roster. There are rookie attractions, such as the Indiana Fever’s Caitlin Clark, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 draft, the Los Angeles SparksCameron Brink, the No. 2 pick, and the Chicago Sky’s Angel Reese, the seventh overall pick.

“There's just this incredible breadth of talent that is opening up that consumer fandom from that point into the league that we're seeing today,” Smith said. “So, it's really exciting I think about the different consumers coming in and finding joy talking about it.”

The young players – and we must include the New York Liberty’s second-year guard Sabrina Ionescu, who grew up in the Bay Area – are entering a league that has such established All-Stars as reigning MVP Breanna Stewart of the Liberty, Chelsea Gray and A’ja Wilson of the two-time defending champion Las Vegas Aces and Alyssa Thompson of the Connecticut Sun.

Every player in the league can only marvel at the OG Diana Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury. The oldest player in the “W” turns 42 next week but remains productive while nearing the end of a Hall of Fame career.

The Valkyries have been blessed with the exquisite timing of climbing aboard a ride accelerating at a fast pace. They’re gaining momentum despite not having a coach or a roster. A coach will be in place sometime this summer, after which there will be an expansion draft that allows Golden State to start building a roster with veterans made available by other teams.

Even as the Valkyries continue to fill open positions – Maria Valdehueza, senior vice president for ticketing and events, was put in place on Monday – the high demand for tickets is making a statement.

“With our success, we're going to have a lot of people being like, ‘Yep I was there Day 1,’” Nyanin said. “And if there's a little blip, what are they going to say? Are they going to contextualize it in an informed way? Or are they just going to drag us down because that's what's cool to do?”

Smith and Nyanin believe they’re building something spectacular. Some of that confidence surely comes from the tenacious spirit of Golden State Warriors CEO Joe Lacob, who made the final decision on both hires and vows the Valkyries will win a WNBA championship before 2030.

Maybe. Maybe not.

But the start is already here. And there is no doubt that when Smith, Nyanin and Lacob finally settle in for the first tipoff, Chase Center will be rocking.

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