Rose Pity? After effects of WNBA’s Portland plans falling apart

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

Simply because one may have the ball on the one-yard line is not a guarantee that said ball will be punched into the end zone for a touchdown.

When it became common knowledge that the WNBA was set to expand to the San Francisco Bay Area, reports started trickling in of a second market that was also poised to land a team. 

At first it appeared that market would be Toronto before Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) backed out in what was clearly a shortsighted move. Then attention began to turn to Portland – where WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert made a voyage too earlier this calendar year. 

Portland has also gained notoriety in women’s sports via the NWSL’s Portland Thorns and for being home to The Sports Bra – an all-women’s sports bar that had a presence at last season’s All-Star festivities in Las Vegas. 

Portland was also home to a WNBA team – the Portland Fire. Unfortunately for WNBA fans in Oregon, it appears a massive bucket of cold water has been doused on what was previously a hot expansion flame in the Pacific Northwest. 

Prior to the Oregonian/ report from Bill Oram regarding the collapse of the WNBA Portland bid, it appeared the WNBA was only a few days away from announcing Portland as the next expansion city. When that report became well-known, the question was why. 

New information began trickling and reasons that were given for the potential “deferment” of the bid ranged from the backing out of millionaire investor Kirk Brown to planned renovations to the Moda Center – the home of the Portland Trail Blazers. The team has leases for both Moda Center and Veterans Coliseum.

Brown is a businessman who founded DiscoverOrg which is now ZoomInfo – which is based in Vancouver.

Another reason that was cited was issues over where a practice facility would be. Practice facilities have become a great bit of the rage in WNBA behind-the-scenes circles. The Portland side had tried to say in response to the WNBA’s letter that they were aware of the renovations to Moda Center and were planning on delaying those for two seasons before the team would play at Veterans Coliseum in 2027.

Part of the reason Mark Davis as well as Clara and Joe Tsai have received rave reviews for their investments in the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty, respectively, is investment in practice facilities. Joe Lacob is planning on having the Golden State team use a practice facility in Oakland for the San Francisco expansion franchise. Practice facilities will also be the case for the Seattle Storm and Chicago Sky. 

Who knows what the actual reason was for the Portland bid falling apart in the eleventh hour but one has to believe that this may open the door for other expansion suitors to get back into the fray.

We know that Engelbert made a trip to another city west of the Mississippi. That city was Denver, Colorado. The reports that indicated that Portland was all but a done deal seemed to cancel Denver out at least in this round of expansion. If Portland is indeed out because of Brown backing out of the bid, it may give new life to a potential Denver effort. 

The bottom line is the WNBA wants to be at 14 teams by 2025. It is a year that is set up to be one where the long-term future of the W will be well-decided. Around that time, the WNBA is set to be in the throes of negotiating a new television rights agreement. 

Also, if the WNBPA opts out of the current collective bargaining agreement, the league will be once again in the midst of another CBA dispute – one where charter flights, expanded rosters and prioritization are sure to be hotly contested topics between the players and owners. 

To the credit of those in Portland that really want for the WNBA to be in their city, reports out of Portland have hinted that there are those that are scrambling to salvage the deal. But if the Portland effort goes up in smoke, it may force the WNBA to be in deeper talks with other cities. 

The worst-case scenario is if the news also forces the league to push back its timeline for completing its current round of expansion. The finalizing of the Bay Area for 2025 gave the WNBA much-needed momentum on the expansion front when fans and media were starting to respond to any expansion news with a “meh.” 

For Engelbert and the league, it can ill afford for that momentum to be affected by this news – and for its expansion prospects to become not as rosy as before.