The WNBA player draft took place this evening in New York.
And while the people you’d think would be drafted high were (three South Carolina players and only one UConn athlete), there’s one thing I wish had happened last evening: an expansion announcment.
This summer will mark the 21st season of the WNBA, yet the league remains at 12 teams. Only three of the current teams remain from the first season — the New York Liberty, Los Angeles Sparks, and the Phoenix Mercury.
The intervening two decades have yielded lessons — both good and bad — at how to develop new markets:
- Florida was a disaster, as the Orlando Miracle and Miami Sol were lost in the same offseason. It was, frankly, needless as other teams moving into the area for summer sports leagues (Florida Launch, Orlando City, Orlando Pride) have done very well.
- Placeholder franchises for cities losing NBA franchises have had mixed success; the Seattle Storm remain in operations, but not the Charlotte Sting.
- Relying on the D-League to be a partner has not been the greatest idea; Tulsa’s WNBA franchise played second fiddle to the city’s D-League team despite having all the tools to succeed.
- Women’s college basketball hotbeds have been coveted, but only one franchise has been set in the midst of one: the Connecticut Sun.
It’s the latter that is a complete mystery to me. There are good-sized arenas in areas of the country where women’s collegiate basketball is an unqualified success.
So, as a public service, here’s a list of eight cities or territorial designations which should be the next cities to have WNBA franchises.
- Nashville, Tenn. — There’s a ready-made market in the eastern half of the state that could support a team other than the Lady Vols. The old American Basketball League recognized this.
- New Orleans — Both LSU and Louisiana Tech have thrived in this region, and the Pelicans could use a team to fill the arena in their offseason.
- Toronto — This is the ideal city for the WNBA to make an entry into Canada. A great city with fans who can go all out for a good product.
- Denver — This is the team that should have been called the Sky; the colors were blue and yellow, just like the Nuggets. But the Mile High City is full of young and vibrant professionals capable of supporting a team.
- Philadelphia — It befuddles me that the NBA doesn’t think a WNBA franchise wouldn’t do well here, the home of the Immaculata Mighty Macs. Indeed, had the GM of the 76ers had the forethought to get a WNBA team instead of working on a dubious long-term process, the city would have Elena Delle Donne by now.
- Portland — The city supports the NWSL’s Portland Thorns in numbers that are an Everest compared to the league’s Kansas. The league needs to make a comeback here.
- Houston — Same here. It was a travesty that the Comets folded and a definite black eye for the league’s administration.
- San Francisco Bay Area — How is it that there is so much Silicon Valley money being used to attract the likes of Kevin Durant, yet there’s no WNBA team in the Oracle Center?