Column: Commissioner Engelbert, let’s talk expansion

Photo Credit: Christa Neu/Lehigh University

As the WNBA enters its 23rd season, it will be a different sort of season on the front office and corporate end of the on-court, off-court spectrum.

Photo Credit: Christa Neu/Lehigh University

This week, it was announced that Cathy Engelbert, former CEO of accounting firm Deloitte, will take over the reins as the W’s first ever commissioner as opposed to the previous title of “league president.”

The primary hot-button topic that will be facing Engelbert when she begins her term in July (approximately a week prior to All-Star weekend in Las Vegas) will be ironing out a new collective bargaining agreement with the WNBPA. And all indications from the union appear to lead to the possibility that this round of CBA negotiations will be quite contentious.

While hashing out a new CBA will certainly be a top item on Engelbert’s wish list, there are other topics that may very well occupy Engelbert’s time as well. Let’s hope that the expansion of the WNBA beyond its current 12 teams and 12 markets becomes one of them.

Any women’s basketball player will tell you that getting one of those coveted roster spots on one of the 12 teams is an extremely difficult task. Achieving it is one thing and keeping that roster spot is another. As of this writing, we are in the portion of the preseason where teams are making their final cuts as we are roughly a mere week away from opening night on May 24.

With all the talent that was cut from W rosters in the run-up to the season, it is enough for several teams to be created.

Expansion is always a hot topic among us WNBA fans, but what we are hoping for is that it becomes a hotter issue at headquarters in New York. We all have our ideas on which cities should be considered for expansion – among them Philadelphia, Charlotte, and Sacramento.

But here are four cities who should be, arguably, at the front of the line for new teams.

San Francisco

Photo Credit: Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle

It seems as if expansion to the Bay Area is not a matter of if, but when.

Former president/commissioner (we’re going to start using this distinction a lot so be on the lookout) Lisa Borders once attended an NBA Finals game at Oracle Arena in Oakland – a sign that the WNBA had its eyes further west than just Las Vegas.

Joe Lacob has even mentioned how “successful” a WNBA franchise could be. The only thing that has to be done, it looks like, is for the Golden State Warriors’ new digs in downtown San Francisco – the Chase Center – to be complete.

On top of that, San Francisco makes sense for all sorts of reasons. It is the largest market currently without a team. Plus, with the Bay Area being the tech hub of the world, a Bay Area team will have no shortage of corporate support. San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Silicon Valley, anyone? Oh, and must we mention the rivalry a San Francisco team would have with the Los Angeles Sparks?

In addition, the WNBA is a big deal within the LGBTQIA community and that is a huge community within the Bay Area. Plus Lacob would have lots of money to put into the team. With all of these factors in consideration, the Bay Area looks like a hella no-brainer.

Houston

Photo Credit: Paul Takahashi/Houston Business Journal

Come on. WNBA we have a problem, and that problem is that the team responsible for ushering in the league’s first dynasty is no longer in existence.

The new WNBA commissioner should be thinking constantly about how the Houston Comets can return to the W. By the way, before the Houston Astros won the World Series in 2017, the Comets were the last team that brought a title (or titles) to Clutch City.

Bringing back the memories, magic, and mystique that was provided by those Comets teams from the days of the old Compaq Center. That is something the W should absolutely want to return to. The new Comets would have a rivalry with the Dallas Wings for Texas bragging rights that could go a lot farther than that the Wings had with the former San Antonio Stars, who are now in Las Vegas as the Aces.

Houston is a city with a growing population and also would have a lot of corporate support. Not to mention it is one of the most diverse cities in the country with huge African-American, Hispanic, and Asian populations.

Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta has said he wants to bring an NHL team to H-Town. That may likely come in the form of the Arizona Coyotes as they are a top pick to relocate from the Valley of the Sun. If a WNBA team is next on his wish list…look out. The rest of the W may have a big problem.

Miami

Photo Credit: Hisham F. Ibrahim/Getty Images

South Florida is another market that once played home to a WNBA team – the Miami Sol, even though they were not as ballyhooed back in the day as the Comets were. Still, when the expansion conversation percolates in New York, the W would be wise to watch LeBron James’ “The Decision” and take its talents to South Beach.

Miami is not only a tourist destination, it is an international tourist destination that has seasonal weather throughout. It would have to take a miracle for there to be an 80 degree day in New York in fall. It happens in South Florida all the time.

And if the WNBA wanted to expand its footprint into the Hispanic community to the largest of extents, Miami is just the market to do it in. Many of the W’s cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Dallas, and Atlanta already boast huge Hispanic populations. But Miami calls itself the capital city of Latin America…and it has an extremely strong case.

A Miami team, if done right, would not only be South Florida’s team, but Latin America’s team and with the right ownership and investment, the return of the Miami Sol would be un boleto caliente in South Beach.

Toronto

Photo Credit: David Cooper/Toronto Star/Getty Images

The NBA already has a presence in Toronto with the Raptors. MLB has a presence in Toronto with the Blue Jays. The NFL has flirted with Toronto by way of the Buffalo Bills. The one thing that the Raptors, Blue Jays, and NHL’s Maple Leafs have in common is Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. Someone needs to tell MLSE to meet WNBA.

Just as a Miami team would also be Latin America’s team by proxy, a Toronto team would naturally be Canada’s team. And if it is one thing we know about the major American sports leagues is that they have some sort of presence north of the border. A Toronto WNBA team would provide just that.

As Vancouver is the Los Angeles of Canada, Toronto is its New York. There is a reason why the area is commonly referred to as the GTA because its metropolitan area extends far throughout southern Ontario. Also – similar to San Francisco, Houston, and Miami, Toronto is always very active and is, arguably, the most diverse city in all of Canada.

Kawhi Leonard has already reinvigorated the basketball scene in the T-Dot in a period where hockey and baseball have brought more disappointment lately to Ontario than excitement. If I’m the WNBA, I wouldn’t mind having my brand of professional hoopsters ballin’ through the 6ix.

Only question is…would they want Drake as its ambassador?

There you have it – four cities all worthy of WNBA expansion all in their own rights. The number one goal of any WNBA president/commissioner (there we go again…this is getting fun) should be to grow the game.

We have already seen examples of that through the Twitter deal, the NBA Live deal, the FanDuel deal, and most recently, the CBS Sports Network deal. But just as important as it is to expand the game onto new platforms, it is also essential to expand the league into new cities as well as furthering the reach of the teams who already already entrenched in their respective markets.

So all we want to know on this topic is this, commish. #WhereToW?

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