WNBA Mulls Expansion As League Audience Grows

    • WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert voiced her continued interest in expanding the league.
    • Viewership for the first five games of the season was up 74% on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2.

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WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert reiterated last week that expanding the league is a priority. Charlotte, Houston, Philadelphia, and Toronto have been identified as potential expansion cities.

How much would a new WNBA team cost? Bankers estimated that the 2019 sale of the New York Liberty — a bigger-market team — was in the $10 million to $14 million range.

Interest in the WNBA has spiked exponentially in the last year.

  • Viewership in the U.S. this season was up 74% on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2 through the first five games of the season. Canadian viewership increased 325%.
  • The WNBA Finals saw a 15% year-over-year increase in viewership last year.
  • In May, Google joined Nike, Deloitte, and AT&T as a WNBA Changemaker.
  • Amazon purchased exclusive streaming rights to 16 WNBA games each season in a multiyear deal.

The league started with just eight teams in 1997 but doubled by 2000. It has since dropped back down to 12. Six teams have folded — Charlotte, Cleveland, Houston, Miami, Portland, and Sacramento.

In men’s sports, the narrative isn’t that you have to have 30 financially healthy teams before you expand,” Engelbert said. “In women’s sports, the narrative is we have to have 12 healthy teams before we’ll do anything.”