The WNBA is close to expanding the league with two teams as soon as 2024, and there’s a very good chance the Bay Area will get its own WNBA team.
Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said: the athlete In a story published last week, the league hopes to identify expansion cities this year, with play potentially starting in 2024.
But who will get the Bay Area team and where will they play? This is where things get complicated.
First, you have the Oakland-based American Sports and Entertainment Group (AASEG), an organization of prominent local black business leaders with a black women-led group including former WNBA star Alana Beard leading the team effort. But there’s also the Golden State Warriors, the former tenants of that Oakland arena now playing in their downtown San Francisco arena, Chase Center, and having tried twice before that to bring the WNBA team to the Bay Area.
The league has had 12 teams since 2012, and many wondered if W would expand again. After surviving the 2020 season inside a bubble in Florida and thriving into the 2021 season, the league is finally turning this “if” question into a “when” question.
The Bay Area is currently the WNBA’s biggest missing market by many in and around the league, including Engelbert herself in an interview with TIME, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Before the NBA Finals and five-time Olympic gold medalist Sue Bird.
“I think the Bay area and Portland are probably my top two, and I think Toronto is third, and it could go up to number one and two,” Bird said in May.
AASEG saw Bird’s quote and chimed in on Twitter, claiming that Oakland “would easily have the strongest fan base in the country.” While nothing has been decided yet, the organization has worked to prepare its plan.
In November, AASEG won the exclusive negotiating rights to purchase half of the Coliseum complex in the city of Auckland. While negotiations are underway, AASEG founder and president Ray Bobbitt said the WNBA team would be at the center of all arena operations decisions — which would avoid moving playoff games that have plagued other teams in the league.
“We know that the highest cost area in terms of running a WNBA team is not necessarily player salaries, travel and marketing. It really is the costs of occupying the arena,” Bobbitt said, adding that a deal in which the team can benefit from track operations “will allow the team to not only be able to on debt repayment but also very competitive.”
The Coliseum is currently partially owned by Alameda County, which agreed to sell half of it to Oakland A’s for $85 million in 2019 — although the legality of the sale is under investigation by the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Bobbitt says he has regular meetings with A to work on the arrangement, which is also linked to the MLB team’s pursuit of a soccer field in downtown Oakland at Howard Terminal.
San Francisco would be a less complicated destination than Oakland — and potential owner Joe Lacob is a die-hard fan of women’s basketball, too.
Lacob was the owner of the San Jose Lasers in the NBA, the last women’s professional basketball league before the WNBA. He called it a “dream” to bring the WNBA team to the bay and twice failed efforts to transfer other franchises when they were up for sale: Los Angeles Sparks in 2014 and then-San Antonio Stars in 2017, now Las Vegas Aces, owned by Mark Davis.
But now for the Warriors — who owned part of the WNBA through the NBA — Chase Center is finished and about to wrap up its first full season with fans. Golden State President and COO Brandon Schneider said the team’s interest in the WNBA team remains as high as ever.
“For us, nothing has really changed. We are very interested in the W team,” Schneider said this week. “The time has to be right, on a whole number of fronts. It’s something we’ve been wanting to do for a while.”
And that’s where the decision goes to the league’s chief of staff: Will the WNBA pick a NBA team with a passionate owner in a glamorous arena, or go with a black-led group in a community that every other team despise in their own town, with a league-like proprietary group?
When asked about the Warriors as a WNBA contender, Bobbitt said he and his group “didn’t think much of it,” but soon switched to a promotion for Oakland and AASEG.
“It kind of felt like this was kind of tailored to Auckland,” Bobbitt said. “Just because the Warriors were in Auckland and then left Auckland, and then we brought this to the table first. We know they’ve had a chance over the years to do it, but they haven’t.
“When you look at our proposal in its entirety and the kind of way we’ve done it in a way to get attention here and make sure we get in the league, it’s going to be hard to see how someone wouldn’t want to cheer for that.”
But while Bobbitt believes his group was the first to drive the expansion, Schneider says the Warriors have been searching for a team for a long time and have done market research on a potential season ticket base for a WNBA team.
“If we get to the point where it’s going to be a W team in the Bay Area, we’d definitely love to be involved in running that. We think that’s the best-case scenario for the league, quite frankly,” Schneider said.
And if the team ends up in Auckland?
“At the end of the day, it would be great for the Bay Area to have a W team,” Schneider said. “So that eventually happens is a positive thing.”