NBA All-Star 2024: WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert shares update on league expansion plans

Photo Credit: Akiem Bailum

Typically, WNBA commissioners stage their primary media availabilities around the WNBA Draft, WNBA All-Star and the WNBA Finals. 

But Cathy Engelbert made more remarks where she shared an update on the W’s expansion plans. 

According to The Next, Engelbert mentioned that for the 2025 season the WNBA will indeed remain at 13 teams. Team No. 13, of course, will be the team that takes to the court in 2025 in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

But Engelbert also shared that the WNBA’s expansion aspirations appear to be more bold than previously believed. 

She mentioned to The Next and the Indianapolis Star that the WNBA by either 2026 or 2027 would want to be at 16 teams. 

And then hopefully ’26, ’27 to get to a few more. Our goal hasn’t been made a secret, our goal is to get to sixteen, so three more in that timeframe. ’26, ’27 I’d say.

–Cathy Engelbert (per The Next)

As everyone knows, the WNBA’s expansion situation is fluid and the remarks made by Engelbert appear to change with every appearance and interview she conducts. 

The Next article mentioned an 18-month timeline typically needed for an expansion franchise based on an interview Engelbert herself conducted with ESPN. 

As the WNBA family knows, Team No. 14 became agonizingly close to becoming Portland before that effort fell through in the 11th hour. 

Since then, the last update on expansion that mentioned league talks with specific cities named involved Denver and Charlotte. Engelbert in her remarks, according to The Next article, mentioned eight cities that the WNBA is currently in talks with. 

There have also been reports coming out of Pittsburgh and Nashville where local politicians in both cities appear to be open to the idea of bringing a team either locale, but nothing has been made about potential ownership groups. 

Engelbert knows at this point that at every media availability session she conducts she will get queried on the e-word. The commissioner also has to know that until the announcement of WNBA Golden State that the attitude of fans (and media) was starting to sour on the prospect of expansion. 

It was not that fans and media did not want a larger WNBA. They were simply doubtful that a larger WNBA was on the horizon. The announcement of the Golden State franchise changed the game – and restored faith and confidence in fans and media that the league was indeed for real about expansion. 

A 16-team WNBA by either 2026 or 2027 ideally opens the process up to a whole host of cities. This means three more cities – three more media markets – are likely to be home to WNBA teams by the latter part of the decade. 

Of course, the WNBA’s expansion process has been compared far and wide to that of the NWSL which appears to be expanding at an alarmingly breakneck pace. Engelbert and the W are clearly more meticulous about its expansion process even if it is met with understandable impatience from fans and media like us. 

Hypothetically, the WNBA setting in stone a 13-team league for 2025 also is an indication that it would at least want to have that 14th team in place for 2026. Remember that the Golden State team was announced on the eve of last year’s WNBA Finals between the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty. It was a perfect launching pad given last year’s Finals was a success in terms of ratings and attendance. 

If there is an announcement of a 14th team that would debut in 2026, that announcement may occur possibly during the offseason or sooner, but could have a bit more time to get up and running given the 18-month window posed by Engelbert. 

And the added detail of the WNBA potentially expanding to not one or two, but three more cities as opposed to merely one has to give any prospective cities and ownership groups an added pep in their step. 

The Bay Area proved to be the first answer to the “Where To, W?” question we and others have posed over the years. We all knew it would not be the only answer – and it (hopefully) appears to be far from the lone answer.