WNBA Expansion: Pittsburgh, Nashville looking at a team?

Photo Credit: Akiem Bailum

Since the announcement of an expansion franchise on its way to the San Francisco Bay Area and the collapse of a similar effort in Portland, the last thing we have heard about any expansion news were negotiations with Denver and Charlotte. 

Who knows how those negotiations have gone (or are going), but there has not been much news to report expansion-wise since then. 

That is why it was a bit of a surprise when news broke of at least two other cities that may have franchises on their radars. 

One of them was Pittsburgh. 

WPXI-TV 11 in Pittsburgh (the area’s NBC affiliate) a few days ago reported that the city’s Sports and Exhibition Authority will pay a firm up to $90,000 to gauge demand for either a WNBA or NBA team in the Steel City. 

Another one is Nashville – a city that has been linked to WNBA expansion in the past. There is a story in the Nashville Business Journal where the Nashville-Davidson County mayor – Freddie O’Connell – mentioned bringing more women’s sports to the city – including the W and soccer. 

Of course, these are more (for the time being) municipality-driven efforts as opposed to the formation of ownership groups which is what is really needed to bring a WNBA team to a city. 

Let us look at the possibilities of both – which appear to be very slim. 

Pittsburgh may not necessarily be what one thinks when they think about the typical basketball market. Sports-wise between its hockey, football and baseball teams, Pittsburgh looks to be well-covered. 

Also – if the WNBA were to expand to another northeastern market, one would think they would have their eyes on the more lucrative Philadelphia market as opposed to Pittsburgh. The larger story could be that the W is well-covered in the northeast between the Connecticut Sun, New York Liberty and Washington Mystics. Ideally, when the W thinks about its northeastern presence, it may not have to do more than what it has already done. 

In addition, all three of those teams have stayed put in their respective markets for an extended period of time. 

As for Nashville – it has been linked to a potential expansion franchise in the past. And the WNBA’s lone presence in the southeast is via the Atlanta Dream meaning a Nashville franchise may work from a logistical perspective. 

Here is the problem – Nashville is in the wrong state. 

Anyone who follows the politics of Tennessee ought to understand that it is a state whose calendar is clearly stuck in the 1800s. And the WNBA is supposed to be a progressive sports league. Why would the WNBA reward a state as regressive and as politically radioactive as Tennessee is with a franchise?

Say what one wants about how the Bay Area landed a franchise, but at least San Francisco is in California. At last we checked, California is a state that politically actually understands that it is 2024, not 1724. 

Regardless of what may be going on, we still believe expansion is something the WNBA is exploring because our guess is Cathy Engelbert ideally would want to have 14 teams (at least) in the league as opposed to 13. Where Team No. 14 will call home is yet to be determined but perhaps Engelbert is asked about this issue prior to the draft.

And our guess is it is unlikely Pittsburgh or Nashville will land Team No. 14. After all, over the last few years, we have heard rumblings about cities such as Louisville potentially being interested in a WNBA team even though nothing ever came of those efforts. And one can make an argument that Louisville is probably a better basketball market than either Pittsburgh or Nashville. 

Also on the NBA side, Pittsburgh and Nashville can forget since it is almost a foregone conclusion that Seattle and Las Vegas has first dibs. And the only way a Nashville team would work is if the Memphis Grizzlies were to relocate but the Grizzlies future in Memphis has come up every now and then. 

The bottom line is we are not expecting a black-and-gold logo for a WNBA franchise anytime soon or for a bunch of country artists to begin lamenting about how they have a new favorite W franchise. 

A better guess, until further notice, at this point is if a new set of “Queens” makes its way to the WNBA soon. Or if in 2025 or 2026, the W associates itself with four other numbers – 5280.