Since 2010, the WNBA has been a 12-team league and the league has remained stable. Though there were relocations — like the Detroit/Tulsa Shock moving to Dallas in 2016 and the San Antonio Stars moving to Las Vegas this year — no team folded (although the Sparks came rather close in January 2014).
With the WNBA in a stable place, is it time to expand the league?
Benefits of expansion
More cities get to watch live WNBA games: There is a chicken-and-egg argument when it comes to WNBA coverage. Regional media outlets may not cover the WNBA very much, or at all, because there is no team nearby. But with more WNBA cities, these markets have a much more compelling reason to cover the league.
More young players can develop with meaningful playing time: Many WNBA players picked later in the first round of the draft have a harder time staying in the league after three years. This is because these picks generally start their careers on a high-performing team where veterans take up most of the minutes. Ultimately, it isn’t surprising when a 9th or 10th overall pick is cut from a team before her fourth season in the WNBA. The NBA has 30 teams, so a 9th overall pick usually goes to a team that wasn’t very good the previous season.
Better college recruits could play for mid-major teams: WNBA draft picks generally come from the best college programs, and they should. However, it is not uncommon to see very good players from mid-major or even middle-of-the-road major conference programs transfer to powerhouse programs. For example, second-round 2018 WNBA draft pick Natalie Butler did that when she transferred from Georgetown to UConn in 2014, but Butler finished her college career at George Mason as a graduate student in 2017-18.
There are not many WNBA players from non-power conference teams, but it seems that fewer stars from non-power conferences make it into the league as the years go by. If there were more WNBA teams, there would be more jobs available. And when there are more jobs available, there will be more opportunities for stars from mid-major program.
Ultimately, more high school basketball stars may consider a non-power conference so they can highlight their skills over striving to join a “brand name” program where they may not play very often. That could also make the first and second rounds of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament a more unpredictable and entertaining event.
The league will be more competitive from top to bottom: An expansion WNBA team would have to take part in an expansion draft. Even though such a team would probably not make the playoffs in the first year or two, superteams like the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks would become a little less deep. The Lynx, Sparks, or other superteams would still figure to be in the mix for a title, but the playoff race would become a bit more exciting for teams in the middle of the pack.
5 cities that could support a WNBA team
Now that the benefits of expansion have been raised, here are five cities that are good fits for an expansion WNBA team.
Bay Area, CA: The Bay Area is the largest metropolitan area not to have a WNBA franchise. It is also home to two of the top Pac-12 programs, with Stanford and California. Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob owned the ABL’s San Jose Lasers in 1998 and has expressed interest in owning a WNBA team since at least 2012. If it weren’t for Magic Johnson, Lacob would own and relocate the Sparks to the Bay right now.
Houston, TX: The WNBA has yet to return to a city that it left. But it is a shame that the Houston Comets folded after the 2008 season due to financial troubles. The Comets were also the first true WNBA dynasty, having won each of the WNBA’s first four championships from 1997-2000.
Nashville, TN: The Nashville metropolitan area has nearly 2 million residents. It is also home to Vanderbilt University, which has been one of the SEC’s most consistent programs over the last two decades. Though Knoxville is nearly a three-hour drive east of Nashville, it is still in the Volunteer state and in a market that is more women’s basketball-friendly than average.
Sacramento, CA: Sacramento is less than 100 miles away from Oakland. But it was once the home of the Monarchs, which won the title in 2005. Sacramento is not a large market like the Bay Area or New York City, but it is a market that loves basketball. If it weren’t for the Maloof family’s financial troubles in the late 2000’s, the Monarchs would still be playing today.
Toronto, ON: Toronto has the largest metropolitan area in Canada with 6.42 million people, according to the 2016 Canadian Census. Canada also has one of the top women’s basketball teams in the world and has produced multiple WNBA players, including Indiana Fever center Natalie Achonwa and New York Liberty guard Kia Nurse. The Raptors have been in Toronto since 1995 and have developed into one of the NBA’s most consistent franchises in the last five years despite beginning during a time when basketball wasn’t very popular in Canada. So, why can’t a WNBA team do well in Canada too?