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Saturday, March 2, 2024

WNBA Growth Hits New Inflection Point With Bay Area, Portland Franchises

  • Warriors owners buy into league amid period of accelerating development
  • Portland bid said to have reached WNBA's Board of Governors
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

It was only a matter of time before the WNBA solidified its expansion plans.

On Thursday, the league confirmed the expected news of an expansion franchise for California’s Bay Area with a large-scale presentation at San Francisco’s Chase Center, where the team will play. 

The new team will be joined by a forthcoming franchise in Portland, according to multiple reports. That decision has reached the league’s Board of Governors, with its own announcement expected soon. 

The as-yet-unnamed Bay Area franchise will be led by Golden State Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber — and the Warriors will be the sixth NBA franchise to also have a WNBA team, joining similar situations in Brooklyn, Indiana, Minnesota, Phoenix, and Washington. 

According to sources, the group is committing $50 million to enter the league. The ownership group for the Portland team, meanwhile, is reportedly led by local billionaire Kirk Brown.

Starting with the 2025 season, the new franchises will bring the WNBA to 14 teams and could prompt a realignment to balance the Eastern and Western Conferences. This is also the league’s first expansion since 2008, though there have been multiple relocations.

“The right time, the right moment is today,” said WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert. “The San Francisco Bay Area has proven to well exceed the mark in our expansion criteria. The Bay Area is firmly aligned with our already strong base of diverse and engaged fans, and this is a hub for women’s sports.”

Wave Of Growth

The expansion announcement not only arrives in time with this weekend’s start of a highly touted Finals matchup between the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces, but also follows a 2023 regular season with marked increases in attendance, national TV viewership, and social media consumption.

“The league is ready. It’s gone through some tough times, as we all did during the pandemic, but the league is ready for this expansion. Women’s basketball, and women’s sports overall, is taking off,” Lacob said.

But there remains some friction around the idea of further league expansion — particularly as players continue to push for better benefits and working conditions, including additional charter flights for team travel.

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