The WNBA is looking to expand, and in the next few months, commissioner Cathy Engelbert is hoping to know exactly where.
Philadelphia might be on the shortlist.
According to Chantel Jennings and Mike Vorkunov at The Athletic, the WNBA is down to a list of 10-12 cities and is aiming to identify one or two of them for an expansion team by the time league’s playoffs roll around in September. Based on their reporting, Philadelphia, Nashville, Oakland, Portland, San Francisco and Toronto have all been pinned down as the locations “most prepared and probable” to accept a new team.
On Philadelphia’s chances:
“Sources say [comedian Wanda Sykes], who lives in Pennsylvania part-time, is a part of a group with interest in bringing an expansion team to Philadelphia. Sykes could not be reached for comment. Sources also have connected South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, a Philadelphia native, to the group.
“League sources believe Philadelphia has potential as an eventual expansion city, but it would likely mean the involvement of the 76ers — both financially and in terms of an arena. Though 76ers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer have bought a number of franchises outside of the Sixers, anything linking the 76ers ownership group to a WNBA expansion franchise would be premature, a source said.” [The Athletic]
Philly is sparse on women’s professional sports, but it’s a basketball-rich city and a huge media market — highly attractive points for a league that wants to continue growing — and, with time, has a fan base that can accept a new team and league.
There are some hoops to jump through though, the biggest two being where the team would play and the possibility of the Sixers’ involvement.
As The Athletic report states, anything linking the Sixers to the WNBA would be premature. NBA franchises being involved in their WNBA counterparts isn’t anything new — the New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks, Indiana Fever, Minnesota Lynx, Phoenix Mercury and Washington Mystics are all either owned by or have a working relationship with their corresponding NBA clubs — but while Harris and Blitzer own the Sixers, they don’t own the building they play in, the Wells Fargo Center, which would probably be the immediate first choice for a potential expansion team.
The Sixers have a lease agreement to play in the arena through 2031 but have attempted to carve out their own space in the recent past with the rejected Penn’s Landing proposal from two years ago.
The Wells Fargo Center houses the Sixers, Flyers and the Wings indoor lacrosse team, and along with its other event dates throughout the year. Harris and Blitzer would have to work with arena owners Comcast Spectacor to make way for a possible WNBA schedule.
That being said, the league’s expansion cities could begin play as early as 2024 once selected, and that timeline may line up nicely with Comcast’s revised plans for the sports complex.
There are other options around the city too, such as Temple’s Liacouras Center or the Palestra over at Penn, which may be a better fit for a franchise trying to establish itself out of the gate.
The WNBA will reportedly make its decisions based on numerous priorities and categories — population, demographics, market research and potential viewership, political affiliation and policies, etc.
Here’s hoping Philadelphia is one of the places that wins out.
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