‘Significant milestone’: Toronto getting first WNBA team outside US

Canada’s largest city is getting expansion team that will begin playing in Women’s National Basketball Association in 2026.

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert
'We know Toronto is a basketball city,' WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert says [File: D Ross Cameron/USA Today Sports]

Toronto has been awarded the first Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) franchise outside the United States, with the expansion team to begin playing in 2026.

At a news conference on Thursday, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said there is a “rich history” of women’s basketball both in Canada and in Toronto, the country’s largest city.

“We know Toronto is a basketball city,” Engelbert said. “We’ve seen time and time again that Toronto is home to dedicated and enthusiastic basketball fans.”

The announcement comes as the popularity of women’s basketball – as well as women’s sports in general – has surged in recent years in North America.

The recent WNBA draft drew record-high viewership as 2.45 million people tuned in to watch US college basketball superstar Caitlin Clark be selected first pick by the Indiana Fever.

The league, which hosted its first game in 1997 as an offshoot of the men’s National Basketball Association (NBA), also has seen its overall viewership steadily increase.

Last year, the WNBA had its most watched regular season in more than two decades.

Caitlin Clark poses with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert after being selected number-one in the 2024 draft
Caitlin Clark with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert after she is selected as the number one pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft [Brad Penner/USA Today Sports]

“We’re just at such a pivotal moment for our league,” Engelbert said on Thursday.

“We have set viewership records, selling out season tickets, growing the game, and adding this 14th team marks a particularly significant milestone in the ongoing growth of the league.”

Toronto will be the WNBA’s 14th franchise with the expansion Golden State Valkyries set to start play next year.

Larry Tanenbaum-led Kilmer Sports Ventures is paying $50m for the team, which has yet to be named.

Tanenbaum is also the chairman and a minority owner of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the Toronto sports giant that also owns the National Hockey League’s Maple Leafs and the NBA’s Raptors among other franchises.

About a year ago, the WNBA held its first game in Canada, a sold-out exhibition attended by 19,923 fans at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, the home of the Raptors.

The Canadian city’s WNBA team will play at 8,700-seat Coca-Cola Coliseum at Exhibition Place and will have the ability to move up to the Scotiabank Arena on occasion. Opened in 1921, Coca-Cola Coliseum also is the home of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies.

“I know this is just the start of what’s to come, and we’re honoured to have been selected as the first franchise outside of the United States,” Tanenbaum said at Thursday’s news conference.

He said the team would also play games in Vancouver and Montreal in its inaugural season.

Kilmer Sports Ventures, created as a stand-alone company to operate the team, has committed to building a practice facility, but until that is ready, the players will train at the University of Toronto’s Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies