The 6 in 2026: ‘She The North’ becoming reality after CBC report of successful Toronto WNBA expansion effort

Photo Credit: Akiem Bailum

Cathy Engelbert has set a goal for the WNBA to be a 16-team league by 2028. 

Joe Lacob at the Golden State Warriors stepped up to allow the Bay Area to become the W’s Team No. 13. All indications are that the WNBA’s 14th team will be north of the border. 

Shireen Ahmed of CBC Sports broke the initial news a few months back of the well-funded effort to bring the WNBA to Toronto. The same reporter this past Friday then broke news that Toronto’s WNBA expansion bid is indeed successful. 

The new team would play its home games at the Coca-Cola Coliseum – the same venue where the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League play its games. An announcement has reportedly been scheduled for May 23.

About that reported May 23 date – three WNBA games are scheduled that day – all evening matchups. Minnesota Lynx at Connecticut Sun, Chicago Sky at New York Liberty and Washington Mystics at Phoenix Mercury.

There is plenty to discuss and dissect regarding Ahmed’s report – which has been confirmed by other media outlets. What are some of those aspects? 

As much as we talk about the legacies of great players (especially in basketball circles) we need to have broader conversations about the legacies of commissioners. 

Let us not kid ourselves – bringing the W to Toronto is a massive legacy play for Engelbert. In addition to steering the WNBA through the pandemic and bringing massive new sponsorship dollars to the sport, Engelbert can now say that she brought the W into Toronto. 

One could not ask for a better emphasis point on one’s resume if one is a sports league’s chief executive. Not to mention the massive successes of last year’s WNBA Canada Game at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena between the Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx and this year’s at Edmonton’s Rogers Place between the Los Angeles Sparks and Seattle Storm.

In order to understand a statement such as the one the WNBA released, one has to understand public relations. 

Nowhere in that statement did that spokesperson deny the details of Ahmed’s report. What is more than likely happening behind the scenes is both the bid team and the WNBA as well are preparing all of the social media bells and whistles. 

Not to mention they are also preparing all of the bells and whistles in Toronto once they secure a site to make the big reveal and have a press conference ala Golden State. 

The WNBA and NBA Boards of Governors. That is a fascinating thought especially considering that Larry Tanenbaum (Kilmer Sports, Inc.), a main financial bundler of the bid, happens to be the Chairman of the NBA Board of Governors. If anyone knows anything about what it takes to get an expansion effort to the checkered flag, it would be him. 

Tanenbaum is the minority owner of Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment – the entity that inexplicably balked at a WNBA bid. Another key player in the bid is Teresa Resch, the former Vice President of the Toronto Raptors.

Also – the expansion vote will sail across that finish line with flying colors because every expansion effort means free money for the incumbent 12 owners. Lacob’s expansion fee he paid to the WNBA was in the realm of $50 million. 

Who knows what the expansion fee for Toronto will be especially considering American vs. Canadian dollars. Whatever that fee is, the 12 incumbent owners will take every cent of it – both American and Canadian. This is not 1st and goal at the 1-yard line. It is 1st and goal at the ½-inch line against the worst run defense on the planet. 

Oh – and one of those defenders got flagged for a false start.

This has to be especially a watershed moment for the scores of Canadian players that have graced the WNBA with their talents especially in recent years. 

Canada has sent plenty of stars into the W in recent years – including Kia Nurse, Natalie Achonwa, Rachel Banham and Bridget Carleton. Two of the more recent ones include Laeticia Amihere and Aaliyah Edwards. 

And while it is great for Canadian players to get a taste of the big time in the United States, there is nothing like having the opportunity to see the sport you play get its shining moment in the form of a professional team on your nation’s soil. 

Many have mentioned that the news dropping of the WNBA expanding to Toronto could not have happened without the announcement of full charter flights for the 2024 and 2025 seasons. 

That news dropped the day prior to the CBC report of the successful Toronto bid. The WNBA recently announced that a full charter flights system would be “phased in” starting with this season and the primary operator would be Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines (which has hubs in five W cities). 

The Las Vegas Aces were recently honored at the White House by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris for its 2023 WNBA championship. Chelsea Gray recently revealed on Twitter that the Aces actually flew commercial for the occasion. 

A commercial flight. 

For some of the most elite basketball players on the planet.

To Washington, D.C. to meet the President and Vice President of these very United States. 

Make it make sense. 

Charter flights was the only way a Toronto expansion effort could feasibly work – and those within the WNBA and the WNBPA know it. Since charter flights are a collectively bargained issue, this means league and players had to amend the current CBA in order to get it done. There was a reason why Nneka Ogwumike – President of the WNBPA – was included in the WNBA’s press release regarding charters.

The W already had issues with its players flying commercial – ask Brittney Griner and Caitlin Clark. Imagine the logistical pitfalls that would have been waiting to trip up teams if they had to fly commercial to another country.

Another consequence of the charter announcement is the landscape for labor relations between the WNBA and its WNBPA has drastically shifted – almost overnight. Before, we would have been thinking about a possibly long and drawn-out battle over charters – which would have almost certainly prompted another opt-out of the CBA by the players. 

Between expansion, charters and a new media rights deal that is virtually guaranteed to be a record amount for the W on television/streaming, we now can think about the prospects of prolonged labor peace beyond the middle of this decade. 

San Francisco got the WNBA to 13 teams. Toronto gets it to 14. 

Last time we checked, 14 is still two short of the 16-team goal Engelbert has set for the league. 

She recently said she wants to announce the 14th and 15th teams this calendar year. Toronto being the 14th team would mean one more expansion announcement would be slated for 2024.

And while the W may not recognize Western and Eastern Conferences the way the NBA does, expansion to San Francisco and Toronto still means one team west of the Mississippi River and one team east of it. 

If the W still wants to do one more eastern team and one more western team, which cities will get the nods? 

At this point it may be difficult to compete with Houston in terms of cities west of the Mississippi. Say what one wants about the regressive nature of Texas politics, but Tillman Fertitta is loaded with money. Not to mention because of the Houston Comets, Space City USA is sure to be a sentimental favorite for many a fan. In addition, the Ogwumikes – one of women’s basketball’s most influential families – hail from Houston.

In terms of eastern cities, our crystal basketball tells it may come down to three cities – Philadelphia, Charlotte and Nashville. The latter city may be a growing metropolis and the history of the Tennessee Lady Vols may be a massive selling point for its bid. 

The problem is the same problem Houston would face – Tennessee politics may not jive well with a WNBA that is an overwhelmingly progressive league with an overwhelmingly progressive fanbase. 

Philadelphia may be the most attractive of the bids but would the WNBA feel comfortable putting a fourth team along the upper Interstate 95 corridor to join New York, Washington and Connecticut? 

Charlotte is in a state that is not as politically radioactive as its southern brethren plus the WNBA could use a more robust presence in the south beyond Atlanta. Also – North Carolina is arguably the best basketball state in the country outside of Connecticut, Kentucky and Indiana. In addition the success of South Carolina and NC State would also be a selling point. 

Every time expansion gets mentioned, many details are talked about regarding its short-term and long-term prospects. Those expansion conversations often bury the lead as we did – it means more players actually making WNBA rosters. 

This expansion news is taking place when all incumbent 12 teams are making their final roster cuts before the May 13 deadline. Many a team throughout the W is about to make a few brutal cuts these last few days. 

With two (and possibly four) more teams being added it means more of these cuts and the dreaded “hardship contract” can become a thing of the past. But one also must not lose sight of why roster expansion has to take place alongside league expansion. 

The dirty little secret is owners love league expansion because it makes them money. Roster expansion means more players get paid. But it also means more players making rosters. 

Perhaps this will be another issue that will be hotly contested during the next round of CBA talks even with chartered flights now all but settled…