The WNBA has seen unprecedented success this season. TV viewership was up 21 percent over the previous season, making this the most watched regular season in 21 years. Attendance was up 16% compared to last year and the average attendance of 6,615 fans per game was the most since the 2018 season.
This success has helped the “The W” gain more legitimacy with sponsors on the league and team levels. The season began with a record 38 league-level sponsors with multiple more, like PlayStation, Discount Tire and Continental Tire, added since the season’s tip-off.
The WNBA Finals are set to begin this Sunday with the New York Liberty, featuring newly crowned WNBA MVP Brianna Stewart, facing off against the defending champion Las Vegas Aces, who saw a 66% year over year increase in attendance. While fans are looking forward to this highly anticipated finals series, eyes are already turning to the offseason and towards the much-requested idea of expansion.
WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert has long spoken about how the WNBA was looking to expand for the 2025 season, but it has now been confirmed that the league will expand to the San Francisco Bay Area. Along with a formal press conference announcement held on Thursday, The W created a new social media page and published content to announce the new Bay Area team.
The commissioner also confirmed that they are working with potential ownership groups to expand to other cities with the intent of having another team added for the 2025 season, bringing the league total to an even 14 teams.
Many cities have been rumored to be potential expansion spots for The W, but three stand out thanks to the quantity of credible rumors and ease of expansion: The Bay Area, Toronto, and Denver.
With expansion comes a whole host of new sponsorship opportunities. There are a few likely candidates for each city when considering their location and how these potential sponsors have behaved with existing sports franchises in the cities. Below, I will highlight the most likely sponsor for an expansion franchise in each of these potential cities.
Bay Area- Oracle
It has been confirmed that the Bay Area WNBA expansion franchise will play in the Chase Center, the home of the Warriors, and Oracle partnering with the new organization is a logical next step. The tech giant was the naming rights partner for the Warriors former home, Oracle Arena, and in 2021, Oracle expanded their longtime partnership with the Warriors to make them the official team performance center partner. Oracle is headquartered in the San Fran Bay Area and, in 2019, the San Francisco Giants signed a 20-year partnership that gave Oracle the naming rights to their ballpark through 2038. With Oracle’s long history of supporting Bay Area sports, it’s almost inevitable for them to also sponsor the expansion franchise.
Recent reports claim that the most-likely landing spot for the second expansion team would be Portland, with some claiming that formal discussions have already reached the league’s board of governors.
Phil Knight, co-founder and chairman emeritus of Nike, has been very public about his desire to purchase the Portland Trail Blazers following the passing of longtime owner Paul Allen. But the current ownership has yet to entertain his offers. It would make a lot of sense for the business mogul to be interested in owning an expansion WNBA franchise. Nike is already a huge supporter of the WNBA and women’s sports. The sports apparel giant made a 25-year commitment to the league, becoming an equity investor. Nike is also the official on-court apparel partner for the WNBA and NBA.
With Phil Knight being the likely candidate as owner for a potential Portland WNBA expansion franchise, Nike becoming a huge sponsorship partner for the new organization would be inevitable.
Toronto- Canadian Tire
Toronto has long been rumored as a landing spot for a new WNBA franchise. The WNBA would undoubtably be interested in creating their first non-US based team. The league held a pre-season game in Toronto prior to the 2023 season in front of a sellout crowd, proving that there is WNBA interest from Torontonians.
Canadian Tire, who are headquartered in Toronto, have an extensive history of sponsoring Toronto based sports franchises. Canadian Tire has been a longtime sponsor of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the professional sports company who manages the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Argonauts, and Toronto FC. They are also the official tire retailer of the Raptors. The company just recently became the first sponsor of the upcoming Professional Women’s Hockey League, which will have multiple Canadian franchises. An expansion team in Toronto would be the WNBA’s first foray into Canada, opening sponsorship opportunities for the entire country, but Canadian Tire seems like the most obvious sponsorship candidate thanks to their displayed history of support for professional athletics, especially women’s sports in Canada.
Denver- Ball Corporation
In 2020, the Ball Corporation partnered with Stan Kroenke’s Kronke Sports to become a sponsor for their global sports portfolio including the LA Rams, EPL club Arsenal, Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets. In the deal, Ball Corporation became the new naming rights holder for the home arena of the Nuggets and Avalanche, now known as Ball Arena. Many of the WNBA franchises situated in the same city as an NBA team are owned by the same ownership group, so some sort of expansion of the existing deal between Kronke and Ball Corporation to include the potential new WNBA organization looks to be the most likely outcome.
These long rumored potential expansion spots would all be great landing spots for a franchise. Only time will tell which cities will become the newest home for these brand-new WNBA teams.