WNBA Commissioner Cathy Englebert’s desire to expand the W is taking some major strides, according to Chantel Jennings and Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic.
WNBA expansion is coming – the league plans to add 1-2 teams by the end of this year. They could start playing as soon as the 2024 season. @ChantelJennings and I report on the league’s plans, 6 cities with a real chance, and what a WNBA franchise is worth. https://t.co/weappgYifh
— Mike Vorkunov (@MikeVorkunov) June 2, 2022
Engelbert told The Athletic that she hopes to identify one or two cities for an expansion franchise by the start of the WNBA playoffs in September or by year’s end at the latest. The hope is that the WNBA’s newest team(s) could begin to play as early as the 2024 season. If everything goes well, the W will be adding an expansion team for the first since the Atlanta Dream was founded in 2008.
The W has whittled its list of 100 possible locations for its newest franchise(s) to 10-12 cities, according to Englebert. The League will consider each city through 25 data points within the following five categories: demographics, psychographic (market research or stats classifying population groups according to psychological variables), sports benchmarks, viewership, and fan data.
Things such as a city’s population, political affiliation and policies, and generational demographics will be factors due to the League’s knowledge that its viewership skews to young and female fans.
“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.”
Engelbert estimates there will be an 18-24 month timeline from identifying a new team to its inaugural season. Furthermore, the timeline would be determined by “whether the city has the arena” to hot a team and can that target city “gets these contracts done and get season-ticket holders sold and corporate sponsors.”
WNBA expansion has been a priority issue since Englebert took over as commissioner. There are currently 144 roster spots in the WNBA, with the League carrying closer to 137 players due to salary cap restrictions.
The roster problem has been exasperated season alone after lottery picks were cut after their rookie seasons, and beloved vets with staying power in the League have been quietly waived during training camp before they even got to play a minute.
The WNBA has identified Nashville, Oakland, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, and Toronto as possible expansion spots. According to The Athletic, the expansion fee will reportedly be worth $15-20 million. Englebert didn’t confirm the WNBA’s expansion value but did say that the mention “sounds low, based on recent transactions and revenue multiples,” and that it could be higher due to the “average revenue of a WNBA franchise if you take it on a multiple,”
After the WNBA raised $75 million in funding in February and Englebert raised the W’s profile with an expanded media partnership, there is no better time for ownership groups to invest in the WNBA. According to The Athletic, the WNBA has raised $475 million in funding. The WNBA’s 12 teams and the League itself are worth over $1 billion. As of Thursday, the average value of WNBA teams is more than $43.75 million.
“We have a process that we’re following, and we’re excited to get to the next steps on this,” Engelbert said. “There’s nobody that wants this more than I do. We know that it’s time because there’s such great talent coming out of the NCAA ranks into our League. You just look at the rookies who are doing so great this year. We’ll just continue to broaden the exposure for these players so that we can get this expansion done in the future.”