Expansion has been at the top of the wish list for WNBA players and fans for the past few years, and now it’s on the verge of becoming a reality. In an interview with The Athletic, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert confirmed the league is looking to add one or two teams, and hopes to make an official announcement by the start of the playoffs in September. The new teams could join the league as early as the 2024 season.
While Engelbert said the league has narrowed its list of possible cities to 10-12, there is still much more work to be done before any final decision. Any potential city needs to have an arena in place, a large potential season ticket holder base and an investment group that fits with the league’s value system.
“There’s no crisp or clear formula, but you see cities that rise to the top pretty quickly,” Engelbert said. “And we’re also looking at our current WNBA franchise cities and comparing what lessons we’ve learned and what’s worked and not worked over the last 25 years. We really want to set up new owners for success.”
An ownership group led by former WNBA All-Star Alana Beard has been making an active push to bring a team to the Bay Area, and that region would figure to be one of the leading candidates. Other intriguing locations include Toronto, Philadelphia and Nashville, as CBS Sports broke down in further detail last month.
Another important topic surrounding expansion, and one that’s been under discussed in part because of the league’s intense secrecy surrounding its financial situation, is just how much a new team would cost. The Athletic reported that interested parties have been operating under the assumption that the expansion fee would be in the $15-20 million range, but Engelbert pushed back on that figure and suggested it “sounds low, based on recent transactions and revenue multiples — average revenue of a WNBA franchise if you take it on a multiple — it would be higher than what you described.”
The league has not expanded since 2008, when the Atlanta Dream joined, but recent changes to the CBA and a talent boom have made the current 12-team system untenable. Even in a perfect world, there would only be 144 spots available, but many teams don’t carry a full roster due to salary cap concerns, which makes it more difficult for players to stick around.
Adding a few new teams would create more opportunities for players and help alleviate the current roster crunch, which leads to situations like Crystal Dangerfield getting waived by the Minnesota Lynx less than two years after winning Rookie of the Year, and Mya Hollingshed getting cut in training camp weeks after being the No. 8 overall pick.