Saturday, June 22, 2024
spot_img

WNBA adding expansion team in Toronto: League’s first franchise outside United States will begin play in 2026

The WNBA officially announced on Thursday that it is expanding to Canada with an expansion franchise in Toronto that will begin play during the 2026 season. CBC first broke the news earlier this month. The Toronto franchise will be the league’s 14th team and the first ever outside of the United States. 

The franchise will be owned by Kilmer Sports Ventures, which is run by Larry Tanenbaum. While Tanenbaum is also the chairman of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the NBA’s Raptors, NHL’s Maple Leafs, MLS’ Toronto FC and AHL’s Marlies, MLSE is not involved in the deal. 

MLSE declined the opportunity to acquire an expansion team last year because members of the board were unwilling to pay the then-$50 million fee, according to the Toronto Star. Tanenbaum had to end up heading the project himself, which is partly why it took so long for Toronto to get a franchise. 

“Bringing a WNBA team to Toronto represents an important milestone for our league as we continue to expand both domestically and outside the United States,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement.  “With Larry Tanenbaum’s distinguished record of leading successful sports franchises and Toronto’s appeal as a dynamic, diverse city that cares deeply about the game of basketball, we are confident that this new team will thrive as a first-class WNBA organization and become a great source of inspiration and support for the Toronto-area community and across Canada.”

“Today is a game-changing day not only for women’s basketball but also for sports in Canada,” Tanenbaum added.  “This franchise will be Canada’s team, and we are so excited to unite the country and inspire pride and passion in fans from coast to coast.”

The Coca-Cola Coliseum in downtown Toronto will be the team’s primary home, though they could play some games at the much larger Scotiabank Arena. While the 103-year-old Coliseum holds just under 9,000 for basketball games, Scotiabank Arena can fit over 20,000 with standing room. Tanenbaum’s group has committed to making upgrades to the Coliseum and will also build a new practice facility. 

Furthermore, the team will play select home games in other cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Montreal. “This franchise will be Canada’s team,” Tanenbaum said, adding that his goal with playing games in other cities is “uniting the country behind our franchise and inspiring pride and passion in fans from coast to coast.”

To that point, the WNBA has hosted a “Canada Game” during each of the past two preseasons. Both games, one in Toronto in 2023 and one in Edmonton earlier this month, drew sell-out crowds and massive interest across the country. 

The Toronto franchise will join the Golden State Valkyries as the two newest additions to the league. The Valkyries, which were announced last year, will begin play next season. That will be the first time the league has had more than 12 teams since 2009. 

Prior to the draft earlier this year, Engelbert said she was “pretty confident” of getting to 16 teams by 2028

“We’re talking to a lot of different cities,” Engelbert said. “I think I’ve thrown out names before. It’s complex because you need arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things, you need committed long-term ownership groups. The nice thing is we’re getting a lot of calls.”

Related articles

Share article

Latest articles

Newsletter

Subscribe to stay updated.