WNBA expansion plans narrowed to 10 cities with goal to announce by end of the year

LAS VEGAS — The WNBA is going to expand. Exactly when and where those new franchises will be is getting closer to being a reality.

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said Sunday, before the Las Vegas Aces took a 1-0 series lead in the WNBA Finals, the league has narrowed its focus to “about 10” cities that could host an expansion team. The WNBA had at least 100 cities under consideration where it did its due diligence, Engelbert said.

In regard to when those teams could be announced, Engelbert said she and the league “would love to announce by the end of the year.” Earlier this year, Engelbert said the goal is two teams that could begin play no later than the 2025 season.

“We want to make sure the new ownership group is set up for success. So we will announce it when it’s right, when we have reached agreements with different ownership groups,” Engelbert said Sunday. “But we continue to work hard on it, but it’s been a pretty intense season and we’ll work even harder in the offseason.”

There are additional logistics other than just location that need to be figured out.

“You need to find the right owners with the right capital,” Engelbert said. “We have to run an expansion draft, we have to let our GMs know in advance and head coaches what that’s going to look like. We are working on all of that. We have work streams around all of that.”

One of those expansion teams could be in the Bay Area. Yahoo Sports reported this summer on a bid by the African American Sports & Entertainment Group (AASEG) that centers around the Oakland Coliseum Complex.

“Certainly Bay Area, generally, including Oakland or San Francisco, is certainly on our list, high on our list,” Engelbert said. “… The W is everywhere right now. But such a great market out there given women’s college basketball [is] very popular in the Bay Area. Yes, that’s definitely on the list.”

Other cities that could be front-runners for an expansion team: Toronto, Philadelphia and Nashville.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert speaks during a news conference before the 2022 WNBA Finals on Sept. 11, 2022 in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert speaks during a news conference before the 2022 WNBA Finals on Sept. 11, 2022 in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Engelbert announced the league would hold its first-ever preseason game in Canada next season after previously having discussions before the COVID-19 pandemic and coming off the most recent collective bargaining agreement in early 2020.

“I think the ease of the travel there during, again, an intense training camp time that we had made Canada attractive to us, and again, it’s the demographics and youth and diversity of the country in some of those cities is the reason why we’ll start there,” Engelbert said. “But we would love to get over to Europe, Asia, do an EMEA, do an Asian tour at some point in the future as we build the economics of this league and the success of these players’ global brands.”

The WNBA last played internationally in 2011 when the Atlanta Dream played a preseason game in Manchester, England. The league also hosted a preseason game in Monterrey, Mexico (2004).

Another route for expansion would be the implementation of a development league, such as the NBA has with the G League. There is a pilot program, Force 10, for the 3x3 format that could become a viable pathway for the WNBA.

“It’s exciting. It’s outdoors. It’s quick, 10 minutes with a very short shot clock,” Engelbert said. “I know for those that studied it in the Olympics last year in Tokyo and the U.S. winning the first gold medal in that sport ever, it’s the No. 1 most popular urban sport in the word.

“... Force 10 has been a leader, and you’ve seen other teams step up to sponsor teams on the 3x3 circuit. I’m really interested in the format, and I could see us piloting it as part of WNBA Live in the future as part of All-Star [weekend].”