Throughout her tenure as commissioner of the WNBA, Cathy Engelbert has been consistent about her messaging on the issue of expansion.
The WNBA has just 12 teams, with far fewer roster spots than the surging talent base in women’s basketball would otherwise justify. But in a league where teams have folded in the past, a careful parsing of what is required to add teams is understandable. Add in a pandemic that Engelbert said changed the calendar for the conversation, and it is only now that the idea of adding teams is beginning to get traction.
“We have to do very thoughtful analysis about that,” Engelbert told assembled media at last week’s WNBA All Star Game in Las Vegas. “That’s what we’re working on now. We’re starting that analysis, but nothing yet to commit to. Nothing yet to talk about other than I do think I’d like to consider it when you’re only in 12 markets and you’re in a country of our size and scale. There are some cities where you would think a WNBA team would thrive. Those are the things we’re going to start to look at. It will be data-driven. It will be driven by fans. It will be driven by the popularity of the game at the college level. All those factors.”
It is hard to ignore just how completely the outlines of what a WNBA market should look like, as described by Engelbert, when evaluating the city of Oakland, which took another step forward in its effort to bring a WNBA team to the Bay Area this past week, as the Oakland City Council agreed to move forward with African American Sports and Entertainment Group on a lease for Oakland Arena, formerly known as Oracle Arena, the longtime home of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.
That news is significant for several reasons. It means that any approach by AASEG, a majority Black-owned investment group, to the WNBA carries with it a top-level place to play, a seemingly well-capitalized ownership group and a desirable market. And Oakland’s Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, a leader of this push at the civic level, explained that at a political level, the connection is overwhelmingly obvious as well.
“Our community in the Bay Area values social justice,” Kaplan said in a phone interview. “It values equality and women’s rights. It speaks up for the principle that Black lives matter and leadership, Black women’s leadership, is important.”
Fans eager to see more teams can be forgiven for skepticism — there have been various bubbles online, such as one last summer…
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