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WNBA targets 2025 for new expansion franchise

Hope had been to add to 12-team league in 2024.

16 December 2022 Ed Dixon

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  • WNBA considering proposals from ten interested ownership groups
  • Commissioner Cathy Engelbert confirms “ton of interest from a lot of cities”
  • Atlanta Dream was last team to join league in 2008

The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) will not hit its target of naming a new expansion franchise by the end of the year, but commissioner Cathy Engelbert says the league is still assessing options for its latest team.

Engelbert has been open about wanting to add up to two more franchises, potentially by the 2024 season, though said in July that introducing “a couple teams by no later ‘25” was also a possibility. Philadelphia was among the cities being considered.

Now, the commissioner of North America’s preeminent women’s basketball competition has told The Athletic that the WNBA is continuing to evaluate options for adding to the 12-team league.

“We’re now engaged in the hard work of looking at the cities that we’ve kind of narrowed to at this point,” Engelbert said, “and working with different investor groups, different ownership groups, on what would the arena situation be?

“Practice facilities? How do you think of season ticket holders? How do you think of the corporate sponsorship that you could bring in to the team? So we’re evaluating all that now in a handful of cities. The hard work on that does happen in the offseason. So we’re really into that now.”

Engelbert also revealed that the WNBA is seriously considering proposals from ten interested ownership groups, having narrowed the list from roughly 20 at the beginning of the process. The league is in no rush to select a new city and team, which is unlikely to begin play until the 2025 campaign at the earliest.

The WNBA has not added an expansion franchise since the Atlanta Dream joined the league in 2008.

No new team being confirmed this year should not come as a huge surprise in what has been a packed 2022 for the WNBA. In February, the league bagged the largest-ever capital raise for a women’s sports property, reportedly valued at US$75 million, to support global growth, and has increased its 2023 season to a record 40-game schedule. Engelbert has also been supporting efforts to bring Brittney Griner back to the US, who had been detained in Russia. The Phoenix Mercury star was freed earlier this month.

But, with all that out the way, the expectation is the WNBA will now increase its expansion efforts.

“We’ve got a whole process,” Engelbert told The Athletic. “We’ve got data, we’ve got interesting discussions going on but it’s not something we’re going to rush it to just to say we expand. I’ve told so many business leaders this, and they all seem to agree with me – like I’m a big, big believer in let’s transform the economics and then we’ll expand, not expand and then hope that economics transform.

“We want to bring new owners in that are going to be successful in standing up a franchise that can compete for a championship. So I’m not in a rush, but yeah, would we like to get it done in the next few years? Absolutely.”

Engelbert went on to say that there was “a ton of interest from a lot of cities”, which meant the league could be “thoughtful in how we look at where we’re going to be for the next”.

While Engelbert did not disclose the cost of an expansion fee, she did confirm it had been discussed with some interested ownership groups. The Athletic reports she has used the WNBA’s valuation from its capital raise, which valued the league at US$475 million, as a baseline for how much a new team could cost. Engelbert also stated there is a “range of reasonable estimates on what a franchise would be worth”.

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