WNBA expansion is headed to 16 teams, commissioner says. Portland, Toronto and Philly options

NEW YORK – The WNBA is looking to continue growing in the next few years. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said before the draft that the league intends to reach 16 teams by 2028, confirming that. The athlete Report from earlier Monday.

The league announced earlier this year that the Bay Area will receive an expansion team for its 13th franchise, which is expected to begin play in the 2025 season. Engelbert said the WNBA is looking forward to a 2026 season for its 14th team. It was named Philadelphia. toronto; Portland, Ore. Denver; Nashville, Tennessee. and South Florida as places the league is exploring as options. Charlotte, North Carolina, is also considering the next team, sources familiar with the league's plans said The athlete.

“We're talking to a lot of different cities,” Engelbert said. “I think I've brought up names before. It's complicated because you need an arena and a training facility and housing for the players and all the stuff, and you need ownership groups that are committed long-term. The nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls.”

The WNBA was on the verge of bringing a team to Portland. The city was the subject of significant interest this fall, but those plans fell through during talks with the potential ownership group.

Engelbert did not set a timeline for when the league will decide on its next city and ownership group. “Negotiating can take a very long time or it can happen very quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right position on the scene,” she said.

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Engelbert added that 2026 “is definitely our goal,” but explained that it could be within a year or two of that to add a team. She said she feels confident in naming 2028 as the end point for having 16 teams.

The next few years will be extremely important for the league. Its current television deals with ESPN, CBS, Amazon and ION expire after the 2025 season, and the WNBA is already attracting interest in its next media rights deal. Warner Bros. has expressed… Discovery, which owns TNT Sports, is interested in acquiring the WNBA rights, according to a person familiar with the talks.

The timing of the upcoming team has added importance because expansion and the upcoming media deal are intertwined. By adding more teams, the WNBA will be able to reach more television markets and play more games, giving its media partners more inventory.

This has put the new rights deal top of mind for Engelbert, and will influence the direction and health of the league for years to come. But the league could be in a good position entering talks with Kaitlyn Clark joining the WNBA this season alongside college stars like Angel Reese, Cameron Brink and Kamilla Cardoso in what it hopes will be a draft class that can help the league continue its rise and bring in some players. . The proportion of TV viewers is increasing along the way.

“This is an important year for us in terms of viewership, attendance, and all the qualitative and quantitative factors that go into evaluating media rights,” she said. “Because as I say to my team, there's not a day that goes by that we're not doing that — if we're not working on the things that feed into our next media rights evaluation, then we're not focusing on the right things. That's a really important focus for us.”

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

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

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