WNBA delights Canada with expansion team


WNBA expands into Toronto Image: Coca-Cola Coliseum (Facebook)

The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) has expanded to Canada by awarding Toronto an expansion team, the league’s first outside the United States.

The WNBA said the new team will begin play in the 2026 season as the WNBA’s 14th franchise.

The team will play its home games at historic Coca-Cola Coliseum at Exhibition Place in downtown Toronto. It is expected that additional games may be played at Scotiabank Arena and across Canada.

The team has also committed to building a new, state-of-the-art practice facility that will be dedicated to the team and community initiatives. The team will be owned and operated by Kilmer Sports Ventures.

Larry Tanenbaum, Chairman of Kilmer Sports Ventures and a 30-year veteran of building championship-caliber teams, is also Chairman of the NBA Board of Governors and Chairman of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, MLS’ Toronto FC and other professional sports franchises.

Under his leadership, the Raptors won their first NBA championship in 2019.

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said, “Bringing a WNBA team to Toronto represents an important milestone for our league as we continue to expand both domestically and outside the United States.

“With Larry Tanenbaum’s distinguished record of leading successful sports franchises and Toronto’s appeal as a dynamic, diverse city that cares deeply about the game of basketball, we are confident that this new team will thrive as a first-class WNBA organization and become a great source of inspiration and support for the Toronto-area community and across Canada.”

Tanenbaum added, “Today is a game-changing day not only for women’s basketball but also for sports in Canada. This franchise will be Canada’s team, and we are so excited to unite the country and inspire pride and passion in fans from coast to coast.”

The Canadian franchise will grow the WNBA to 14 teams. Another expansion franchise, the Golden State Valkyries, begins play in 2025.

ESPN said exhibition games in Canada over the past two years proved popular, and women’s basketball as a sport has grown tremendously in that nation over the past 20 years.

The WNBA expanded quickly after its launch in 1997, growing to 16 teams by 2000 — but only stayed at that number through 2002. The Atlanta Dream in 2008 were the last expansion team in the WNBA, which has been at 12 teams since 2010.

Engelbert has said 16 teams is the goal she hopes to reach by 2028.

With the largest television audience ever for the WNBA draft this year, increased ratings for games and more appearances on national television, the league has never been more visible. Expansion will increase that visibility.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “It’s official: Canada is getting a WNBA team! This landmark deal will give opportunities to our remarkable athletes across the country, and on the biggest stage. I can’t wait to see our Canadian women win on the court.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford added, “On behalf of the province of Ontario, I’m thrilled to welcome the first WNBA team in Canadian history to Toronto. The WNBA will be a fantastic addition to Ontario’s dynamic sports landscape, helping to increase tourism and inspire more women and girls to get involved in basketball. I can’t wait to cheer on Ontario’s newest home team!”

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