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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Toronto Set to Be WNBA’s 14th Franchise, First Outside U.S.

  • The team will reportedly start play in May 2026.
  • The WNBA hopes to get to 16 teams ‘in the next few years.’
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The WNBA is heading north of the border.

Toronto will be the WNBA’s 14th team and first outside the United States, beginning play in May 2026, according to the CBC

Billionaire Larry Tanenbaum, the chairman of Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment and a minority owner in the Maple Leafs and Raptors among other investments, was awarded the franchise, with an official announcement expected in the city May 23. According to the CBC, the expansion team will play at the city’s 8,000-seat Coca-Cola Coliseum. 

The league told Front Office Sports that any news was not official yet. “We continue to engage in productive conversations with interested ownership groups in a number of markets and the granting of any expansion teams requires a vote of the WNBA and NBA Board of Governors,” a league spokesperson said.

The news comes two days after the league announced it would charter flights for all teams, a previous point of contention between players and the league.

At April’s WNBA draft, commissioner Cathy Engelbert named Toronto as one of the markets the league was negotiating with and said she hopes to get the league to 16 teams “in the next few years.” Golden State, the league’s 13th team, will begin play next season in San Francisco. 

Toronto is home to the Hockey Hall of Fame, but it has seen a huge interest in the Raptors, its NBA franchise. The Raptors won the 2019 NBA Finals and previously inspired a whole generation of Canadians to pick up a basketball thanks to icons like Vince Carter, who was the expansion franchise’s first star in the late ’90s. Canada claimed a bronze medal in the ’23 FIBA World Cup and has stars such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Oklahoma City Thunder leading a loaded team into the Summer Olympics. The WNBA had four Canadians on rosters for the ’23 season, most notably Sparks guard Kia Nurse. 

In 2023, Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, home to the Raptors and Maple Leafs, sold out for the WNBA’s first preseason game in Canada. It was so successful that the league held another preseason game in Edmonton this past Saturday, with 16,000 fans coming to watch the Seattle Storm play the Los Angeles Sparks. 

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