WNBA expansion headed for 16 teams, commissioner says. Portland, Toronto, Philly options

NEW YORK — The WNBA looks to continue its growth in the coming years. The league intends to reach 16 teams by 2028, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said before the draft, confirming Athleticism Monday morning report.

The league announced earlier this year that the Bay Area would receive an expansion team for a 13th league franchise, which is expected to begin play in the 2025 season. The WNBA is eyeing the 2026 season for its 14th team, Engelbert said. She named Philadelphia; Toronto; Portland, Oregon; Denver; Nashville, Tenn.; and South Florida as places the league is exploring as options. Charlotte, North Carolina, is also under consideration for the next team, sources with knowledge of the league’s plans said. Athleticism.

“We’re talking to a lot of different cities,” Engelbert said. “I think I’ve already thrown out some names. It’s complex because you need an arena, training facilities, player housing and everything else, you need ownership groups committed for the long term. The good thing is we get a lot of calls.

The WNBA was about to bring a team to Portland. The city was heavily considered this fall, but those plans fell through during discussions with the potential ownership group.

Engelbert did not say when the league would decide its next city and ownership group. “These negotiations can either take a long time to negotiate or happen fairly quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right situation in the arena,” she said.

Engelbert added that 2026 “is definitely our goal,” but clarified that it could take a year or two to add a team. She said she felt confident naming 2028 as the end goal to have 16 teams.

The next few years will be significant for the league. Its current television deals with ESPN, CBS, Amazon and Ion expire after the 2025 season, and the WNBA is already generating interest in its next media rights deal. Warner Bros. Discovery, owner of TNT Sports, has expressed interest in acquiring WNBA rights, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations.

The timing of the next team matters even more because expansion and the next media deal are closely linked. By adding more teams, the WNBA would be able to reach more television markets and play more games, providing its media partners with greater inventory.

This put the new rights deal at the forefront of Engelbert’s mind, and it will influence the direction and health of the league for years to come. But the league could be well-positioned to begin negotiations with Caitlin Clark entering the WNBA this season, alongside college stars like Angel Reese, Cameron Brink and Kamilla Cardoso, in what it hopes will be a draft class who can help the league continue its rise and contribute. of the television audience increases at the same time.

“It’s an important year for us in terms of audience, attendance, all the qualitative and quantitative factors that go into the valuation of media rights,” she said. “Because as I told my team, there is not a day when we are not doing it: if we are not working on things that fuel the valuation of our next media rights, we are not focused not on the good things. This is a really important goal for us.

She also said the league would likely hold its expansion draft for the Bay Area team in December, after the season but before the next WNBA draft.

(Photo by Cathy Engelbert: John Nacion/Sportico via Getty Images)

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