WNBA expansion seems real – Cathy Engelbert is talking about it

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

Go into any corner of WNBA Twitter and one will likely find a conversation going on regarding expansion.

Whether it pertains to expansion of the league or expansion of the rosters, it is something that is always a hot-button topic among fans and dignitaries within the W family.

The depth of the cuts that took place prior to the start of the season really exacerbated the need for larger rosters and-or more teams. Those cuts are still occurring even as the season has commenced. After all, we have seen a team like the Minnesota Lynx and its coach/general manager Cheryl Reeve cut respected veterans such as Layshia Clarendon and Angel McCoughtry not to mention a former Rookie of the Year in Crystal Dangerfield.

But while most of the talk around expansion appears to be only hypothetical, it is not so much when it comes from the commissioner of the league.

Cathy Engelbert, in a recent article out of the Seattle Times, mentioned how the WNBA would want to expand to two new markets in the coming seasons. This would likely follow the NBA model where it appears poised to expand to two new markets as well with Las Vegas and Seattle – two cities already home to W franchises – as the favorites.

Typically, whenever a commissioner like an Engelbert or a “league president” like a Lisa Borders gets asked about the e-word, they usually mention that they are thinking about the overall health of the WNBA before deciding to proceed with expansion. Here, Engelbert has all but inserted itself into the regular conversation that occurs on WNBA Twitter re: expansion and giving concrete details.

Engelbert is making it appear as if the WNBA will expand – and given the news as well about how the W is seeking $100 million out of a new broadcast pact in 2024, one cannot think about the news coming out of WNBA headquarters at Park Avenue without thinking about the letters C, B and A.

After all, the WNBA’s CBA with the WNBPA expires in 2027 with an opt-out clause for 2025. Adding more teams (or more roster spots) will definitely affect the tenor of any future CBA struck between the league and the players.

For Engelbert to say on record what the WNBA’s aspirations for expansion are display that it is as much of a topic of conversation within WNBA boardrooms as it is fans and players themselves. After all, there is a fee attached to expansion – and the incumbent 12 owners would be the ones receiving a piece of that expansion pie and that could be multiplied by two if the WNBA does indeed expand by two teams.

The question that many WNBA fans will be asking themselves in the coming seasons when remembering Engelbert’s comments is where will those two markets be? There is an investment group in the Bay Area that seems all but poised to bring a WNBA team to Oakland and have the team stage its home games at Oakland Arena – formerly Oracle Arena that was the home venue for the Golden State Warriors before they moved to Chase Center in San Francisco.

Our guess is that the WNBA will want to expand by one team west of the Mississippi and possibly by another team east of the Mississippi. This would theoretically put markets such as Toronto, Charlotte and Miami in the running to win the expansion sweepstakes.

Unless Engelbert does a 180 on the expansion issue the next time she talks about it, there is now the influence of the WNBA’s commissioner office behind any expansion efforts that may take place because she decided to talk about the issue on record. That is as much of a signal as anything that expansion is no longer a feeler topic in WNBA boardrooms and front offices. It is heating up – and expansion fees are a great way to make up for lost revenue from the pandemic.

The opportunity to expand the WNBA to new cities only grows the game itself and ups its reach even more so than it already is. A bigger, more prosperous, more popular and more widespread W is a good thing not only for it but for women’s sports as a whole given its status as a standard bearer for other women’s leagues.

So, this point, there seems to be only one thing left to ask…

Where to, W?