Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Toronto awarded WNBA expansion team to begin play in 2026 | CBC Sports

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Women’s professional basketball is coming to Toronto. 

CBC Sports has learned that Kilmer Sports Inc., headed by Toronto billionaire Larry Tanenbaum, has been granted an expansion franchise with the Women’s National Basketball Association.

An announcement is expected May 23 in Toronto, with the team to begin play in May 2026, according to four people with knowledge of the deal but who are not authorized to speak about it.

Tanenbaum is a minority owner and chairman of sporting giant Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment which owns the Maple Leafs, Raptors, TFC, Argos and Marlies.

The 79-year-old originally pursued the expansion team through MLSE, but it was turned down by other members of the board. 

Larry Tanenbaum, left, presents a ring to Kyle Lowry in 2019 to celebrate the Toronto Raptors’ NBA championship. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

The WNBA recently expanded to 13 teams with San Francisco-based Golden State to begin play next year, and commissioner Cathy Englebert said in April Toronto was among the cities being considered as the 14th team.

In a statement, Courtney Glen, vice president of public affairs and communications for the Kilmer Group, said the organization has “no update at this time.”

A WNBA spokesperson said: “We continue to engage in productive conversations with interested ownership groups in a number of markets but have no news to report at this time.”

A source said the team would play at Coca-Cola Coliseum, an 8,000-seat arena at Toronto’s CNE grounds which is home to the Marlies and where Toronto’s Professional Women’s Hockey League franchise is currently playing its first playoff series.

A woman basketball player signs autographs.
Canada’s Bridget Carleton greets fans after her Minnesota Lynx team’s preseason game against the Chicago Sky in Toronto last May. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Professional women’s sports has been on the rise in Canada with the formation of the PWHL that has two other Canadian franchises in Ottawa and Montreal, as well as a new women’s soccer league that is expected to begin play in 2025. 

A year ago, Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena sold out for the WNBA’s first pre-season game in Canada and on Saturday, more than 16,000 tickets were sold for a game in Edmonton’s Rogers Place.

The league recently held its amateur draft, with NCAA star Caitlin Clark going first overall to the Indiana Fever.

Kilmer Sports Inc. is a new arm of Tanenbaum’s Kilmer Group, and it has hired former European soccer executive Ivan Gazidis to lead the new group. Teresa Resch is also part of the new organization after leaving her job with the Raptors as vice president of basketball operations.

WATCH | Sold-out crowd at WNBA pre-season game in Toronto:

What’s next for the WNBA and Canada? | About That

Toronto hosted a sellout crowd this weekend for a WNBA exhibition game between the Minnesota Lynx and Chicago Sky. About That producer Lauren Bird and Sportsnet’s Savanna Hamilton reflect on the game and what it means for the future of pro women’s basketball in Canada.

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