Prior to the WNBA officially announcing expansion to the San Francisco Bay Area on the eve of this past season’s Finals between the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty, fans were beginning to look at expansion news with a “meh.”
It appeared fans and media were more committed to expansion moreso than the league itself was. Then when the announcement was made that the Bay Area would get team No. 13, everything changed.
It proved that Cathy Engelbert and the WNBA was indeed for real about expansion – it was just waiting for the right moment (and a buyer with the right amount of money in the Golden State Warriors’ Joe Lacob).
Of course, one would think that even with a 13th team having been confirmed that the W would like a nice even number of 14 for now. At first, it appeared Team No. 14 would be Toronto, but Maple Leafs Sports Entertainment (MLSE) backed in what was purely a shortsighted move.
Then it appeared a done deal that Team No. 14 would be Portland, Oregon before the individual spearheading the bid, Kirk Brown, backed out and questions were raised about a practice facility as well as renovations to the Moda Center. It, of course, is where the Portland Trail Blazers call home.
Now, a new report has emerged hinting at the idea that the two cities that have emerged as favorites for Team No. 14 are Denver and Charlotte.
We have written before about the possibility that Denver may have emerged as a “mystery city” for WNBA expansion. Portland’s bid collapsing in the 11th hour has clearly re-opened things for the Mile High City to be the home of WNBA Team No. 14.
Here is the issue – does the WNBA want to be or not want to be at Denver University instead of Ball Arena? It appears Engelbert’s stance on expansion is that WNBA teams should be playing at NBA arenas instead of smaller venues.
While little – for now – appears to be known about the Charlotte bid, it may have a leg up on Denver for a few reasons.
The first being is that it would be a good look for the WNBA public relations-wise to expand into Charlotte because it has a huge Black population (and a sizable Hispanic population). Since so many within the WNBA family from players to media have connections to the Carolinas, placing a team in the Queen City would be symbolic of a personal connection to those fans even a larger market such as Toronto or Philadelphia may make better business sense.
Also – the success of collegiate programs such as South Carolina and NC State would make a WNBA team an easy sell in a city that is the cultural and financial hub of the Carolinas.
Plus, it would provide a stronger presence in the southeast that currently the Atlanta Dream have all to itself. Ideally, the WNBA may want to expand to more southern cities, but one issue stands in the way of that.
The WNBA has a very progressive fanbase – a fanbase that may not take too kindly to the idea of rewarding a politically radioactive state such as Tennessee or Florida with a team. North Carolina is not as politically radioactive as Tennessee or Florida even though recent developments are troubling and suggest it may be getting there.
And, of course, the WNBA has a history with the Carolinas. One of the W’s original franchises was the Charlotte Sting. Also – about the Dream. The WNBA has not done a great job over the years of emphasizing rivalries outside of when two teams are clearly above the pack in terms of the championship picture (see Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks of mid 2010s or Aces-Liberty today). A Charlotte team would create a natural rivalry with the Dream the way a Denver team simply could not duplicate (Phoenix Mercury?).
Considering all of these factors, one would think the Carolinas would have a leg up on the Rocky Mountains. And that team may not even have to bring back the “Charlotte Sting” name. Charlotte is one of two Queen Cities (Cincinnati being the other). If an NBA team in Sacramento and a NHL team in Los Angeles can be the Kings, why not Charlotte Queens for a WNBA team?
Talk about owning the crown…
There is still likely a bevy of news to come down the pike in terms of Team No. 14. Denver has not taken many losses in professional basketball lately, but if it is indeed Denver vs. Charlotte for Team No. 14, the home of the Hornets may prevail over the home of the Nuggets.