Five potential cities for WNBA expansion

The Chicago Sky claim their first WNBA title to put a bow on the 2021 season. It was another thrilling season, but it is already time to turn our focus to the future. Following strong television numbers and increased demand for merchandise, growth and change is on the horizon for the league. WNBA commissioner Cathy Englebert is ready to embrace that as well, outlining a plan for growth as the league transitions for surviving to thriving. Discussions around extending playoff series and improving player travel accommodations are sure to come up in the coming months, but there is one issue that feels more pressing than anything else. With a strong foundation, it is definitely time to explore adding a few more franchises to the mix. The league is overflowing with talent and it is clear that we are due for WNBA expansion.

It has been 13 years since the Atlanta Dream joined the league, which means fans are eager to see the league grow. Trust me, I would love to see the league reach 16 teams by 2025 so we can finally see draft picks make rosters and see playing time earlier in their careers. At this point, it is still ridiculously difficult to make a WNBA roster. I would love to see that change to we can see an expanded player pool. However, it is important for the WNBA to pick the right cities to expand to. Here are five cities I could see the league targeting as they look to take the next step in its development.

Chiney Ogwumike was one of the best scorers in Pac-12 history. (Wikimedia Commons)

San Francisco/Oakland, California
This might be the most obvious untapped market left for the league. With one of the top college programs in the area in Stanford and a massive metro population, the Bay Area has been rumored to land a WNBA franchise for a while now. As the Warriors continue to grow the Bay’s basketball appetite, it is safe to assume there are more than a few basketball fans that would embrace a team arriving in the area. Especially with the Raiders having moved to Las Vegas and the Athletics rumored to be on the move as well, there could be a vacuum for the WNBA to fill.

California is also unquestionably capable of hosting two teams. After all, there are four NBA teams based in Cali. Tara VanDerveer has sent a long list of players to the WNBA, which bodes well for fans wanting to see those players return as professionals. It might be difficult to standout among the endless entertainment opportunities in the area, but I think the WNBA would be more welcomed with open arms by San Francisco in particular.

South Carolina built a statue of A’ja Wilson on campus in 2021. (Wikimedia Commons)

Columbia, South Carolina
Home of one of the most successful college basketball programs in the country, Columbia is a basketball town. Under Dawn Staley, who recently signed a massive seven-year contract extension to stay at the school, the University of South Carolina has become a powerhouse. They also lead the nation in average attendance, topping 13,000 fans per game. With some very famous alumni now tearing up the WNBA, most notably 2020 MVP A’ja Wilson, there is bound to be interest in watching some of those top players continue their basketball careers.

This is definitely an untapped market as well. There is not a single pro sports team in South Carolina. There are several that represent both North Carolina and South Carolina, but they all play in and around Charlotte. That is at least a 90-minute drive from Columbia. The closest thing to pro sports in South Carolina is minor league baseball. Columbia is also centrally located, which could lead to fans from around the state making the trip to attend games. With limited competition for attention and an already dedicated women’s basketball fan base, this feels like a perfect fit.

Former Tennessee star Candace Parker just claimed her second WNBA title. (Wikimedia Commons)

Nashville, Tennessee
Let’s stick with searching for cities with ties to elite women’s college basketball programs. Tennessee has fallen on hard times in recent years, but it seems like Kellie Harper is working on turning things around. Even in these leaner years, at least by Lady Volunteer standards, fans continue to come out in droves. Tennessee ranks fourth in the nation among college programs in terms of attendance. I think we could see their numbers climb as well if the team returns to the national contender status. There are still loads of former Tennessee players in the league.

Nashville is not super close, but it is the closest major city to Knoxville. While there would certainly be some competition for attention with the Tennessee Titans, Nashville Predators and of course the country music scene, I think there is some hope for a WNBA thriving in town. With a younger, more left-leaning population, Nashville aligns well with the WNBA. As the league continues to push for social justice, it feels much more likely a franchise will be embraced in a city where social justice initiatives will be met with limited resistance. It sounds like we could see a team in Music City before too long.

Charli Collier became the first former Texas player to be selected No. 1 in the WNBA draft. (Wikimedia Commons)

Austin, Texas
This one requires a little bit of projection and is certainly a bit riskier for the league. With a franchise already in Dallas, there is a chance it will be hard to see two franchises thrive located less than 200 miles apart. However, there is a lot to like about what Austin offers as a potential home for a WNBA expansion team. For one, there a number of good college programs in Texas. Baylor is an annual contender, Texas A&M has grown in recent years and the University of Texas is trending up after bringing Vic Schaefer into the fold. 2021 WNBA No. 1 pick Charli Collier is also a recent Longhorn alumni, which would only help with the draw.

Beyond that, Austin is a growing city without much competition for attention. The MLS is the only sports lead that has a franchise in Austin with expansion side Austin FC in the midst of their inaugural season. The Metro area also counts more than 2.2 million people as part of its population, and that number is climbing. Over the past decade, the population in the city proper grew by 21 percent. It is a trendy spot to move for young people with a developing social scene. That sounds like the perfect place for the WNBA to explore. With rumors that the Buffalo Bills could relocate to Austin, while likely just conjecture, it underlines how desirable a location Austin as a destination for sports franchises.

Attendance for Oregon games in Sabrina Ionescu’s senior year went over 10,000 on average. (Wikimedia Commons)

Portland, Oregon
Another clear NBA tie in here, the Trail Blazers have a very dedicated and strong backing in the city. Back in 2019, before the pandemic, Portland ranked 7th in the league for average attendance. Basketball is clearly popular on the West Coast and the WNBA would be wise to capitalize on that. It also helps to have one of the premier programs in the country just 100 miles down the road. Kelly Graves has turned Oregon into a national contender. There are several famous alumni now playing in the pros that would be sure to draw a crowd when they came to town. I can only imagine what the reception would be like for Sabrina Ionescu.

Portland sports fans seem to be passionate regardless of the team. The Thorns lead the NWSL in total attendance and the Timbers have one of the best fan bases in MLS. I have a feeling the city would be eager to welcome and support another franchise to town. With a steadily growing population that definitely leans more liberal, this feels like an obvious choice to explore down the line for WNBA expansion.


10 Best WNBA games to watch this season

Basketball is back! The WNBA season is underway at the IMG Academy in Florida, with the first week of action now in the books. It won’t be a typical season because of the coronavirus, but the league has established a double round robin regular season, meaning each team will have 22 games before moving to its traditional playoff format.

I am really excited to watch this 2020 season, so I thought I would share my favorite matchups for the shortened league year. There are two reasons for this. One, to highlight the best games on the schedule. Two, to draw attention to the lack of access for fans to watch their favorite teams and television coverage devoted to the WNBA as whole.

2020 will be the first season the Minnesota Lynx have all of their games broadcast on television. We will see if that remains true next year when the league resumes its traditional 34-game season. It is ridiculous that Lynx games are not regularly available on TV. The franchise has won four WNBA titles, with the latest coming in 2017. For it to be this difficult to watch one of the league’s premier franchises is embarrassing and provides a pretty clear picture of how little the media pays attention to women’s sports.

In the interest of making sure everyone can watch all of the games listed, I only picked matchups that are scheduled to be nationally televised. Fortunately, this season will feature the most nationally televised games in WNBA history. ESPN announced Monday that it will be adding 13 more games to it’s slate for the season.

Unfortunately, that rules out both 2019 finals rematches between the Mystics and Sun. For a point of reference, both games between Warriors and Raptors, last year’s NBA Finals participants, were nationally televised. Just another indication of the disparity between men’s sports and women’s sports coverage. ESPN/ABC and CBSSN are the national broadcast partners for the league.

Here are my top 10 games to watch for the rest of the season.


Sabrina Ionescu
Ionescu is college basketball’s all-time leader in triple-doubles. (Wikimedia Commons)

10. Las Vegas Aces vs. New York Liberty
August 9, 3 pm ET, ESPN
The headliner here will be watching the previous two No. 1 picks face off in Jackie Young and Sabrina Ionescu. We might get a pretty good glimpse at the future of the WNBA in this matchup as well. The Las Vegas Aces represent what the New York Liberty could be in a few years, but there are some very young players with star potential on both sides. For Vegas, A’ja Wilson might already be at that point. Kelsey Plum is still just 25 and looking to get back to her 2018 form. New York boasts seven rookies and most of the roster is 25 and under. The Aces were semifinalists last season. They should be one of the most exciting teams to watch all season.


9. Atlanta Dream vs. Dallas Wings
August 8, 12 pm, ESPN2
For many reasons, this should be an interesting showdown. The first matchup between these two teams proved to be the most high-scoring game of opening weekend. Atlanta and Dallas combined for an even 200 points in a 105-95 victory for the Dream. Both teams are really young and feature some exciting prospects. Atlanta has rookie Chennedy Carter, who averaged 22.5 points per game at Texas A&M and dropped 18 points in her debut, and 2019 first-round selection Kalani Brown, who struggled to get minutes as a rookie in Los Angeles. Dallas’ entire roster is under the age of 28. They have a ridiculous collection of young talent, including Arike Ogunbowale, Katie Lou Samuelson, Megan Gustafson, Satou Sabally, Tyasha Harris, Allisha Gray, Marina Mabrey and Bella Alaire. I’m buying lots of futures in Wings stock. Expect this to be an entertaining contest.

8. Dallas Wings vs. Chicago Sky
September 11, 8 PM, CBSSN
We see it all the time with UConn players, but now we get a chance to see two former Oregon stars battle it out to close out the season. Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard both put together stellar careers in Eugene, translating that success into first-round selections in the WNBA draft. Chicago should be looking to strengthen it’s playoff position come season’s end. For Dallas, the playoffs might be a bit of a long shot, but it will be really interesting to see how much this young team develops and bonds over the course of the season. This should be a game of contrasting styles as well. The Sky had the fastest-paced offense in the league last season while the Wings were notorious for slowing it down.


Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart (30) takes a free throw.
Stewart missed the 2019 season with a ruptured Achilles. (Wikimedia Commons)

7. Seattle Storm vs. New York Liberty
August 18, 9 pm, ESPN
If you had high expectations for Sabrina Ionescu’s WNBA debut like I did, you were probably a little disappointed. It turns out she saved the fireworks for her second game. We should probably expect some streaky performances from the 2020 No. 1 pick as she gets acclimated into the league, but she showed her immense potential. That makes a rematch with Breanna Stewart and the Storm even more exciting. This game should feature plenty of three-point shooting and big names. Given a few more weeks to gel, New York’s young core could start to click as well. The season opener between these two teams was close until the fourth quarter. I think the next one could be tight all the way to the end.


6. Los Angeles Sparks vs. Washington Mystics
September 10, 10 pm, CBSSN
Even without Elena Delle Donne and Tina Charles, the Washington Mystics are showing they mean business in 2020. Myisha Hines-Allen, Ariel Powers and 2019 WNBA Final MVP Emma Meesseman have all shared the scoring load in the early stages of the season. The team made a statement on Thursday by knocking off the title-favorite Storm. Los Angeles would also like to have a word with anyone looking to crown Seattle in August. Nneka Ogwumike, Brittany Sykes and Candace Parker form a formidable trio with Chelsea Gray facilitating the offense. This late-season contest should be an important one when it comes to playoff seeding and a potential preview of a playoff matchup in the semis or finals.

5. Phoenix Mercury vs. Connecticut Sun
August 26, 10 pm, CBSSN
On it’s own merits, this would be a really fun game to watch. Add in that Dewanna Bonner will be facing the Phoenix Mercury on national television. Bonner has already looked like a staple of the Connecticut offense, especially with Jonquel Jones opting out for this season. I am eager to see her going head-to-head with Brittney Griner as the heat turns up on the playoff push. Neither team has gotten off to a great start, but expectations of a playoff appearance are the minimum for both sides. If that wasn’t enough for you, just go watch Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith ball out for a few hours. It will make your day better.


Former No. 1 pick A’ja Wilson earned all-star status in each of her first two seasons. (Wikimedia Commons)

4. Washington Mystics vs. Las Vegas Aces
August 15, 12 pm, ESPN
A rematch of the WNBA semifinals from 2019 is looking like another top-end showdown for 2020. Washington was supposed to take a step back without Elena Delle Donne and Tina Charles, but the depth of this roster has stepped up. Through three games, the Mystics are the only undefeated team left in the league. Las Vegas has not been quite as prolific out of the gate, but it flashed its immense potential in a 30-point drubbing of Atlanta. The Aces added Angel McCoughtry to a roster already featuring A’ja Wilson and Liz Cambage. That group has championship potential, but Ariel Powers and company are proving that the road to a title still runs through D.C.


3. Dallas Wings vs. Phoenix Mercury
August 10, 7 pm ET, ESPN2
Dallas hit the reset button on the franchise this offseason, trading its star player, Skylar Diggins-Smith, to Phoenix for three first-round picks. The Wings used the first two of those picks on Bella Alaire and Tyasha Harris. We won’t know the full haul of this trade until after the 2021 draft, but it will be really interesting to see how Diggins-Smith handles playing her former club and the progress we can assess in the Wings’ rebuild. This matchup would have been a lot more exciting if not for COVID-19 and fans would be able to welcome Diggins-Smith back to Dallas, but this will have to do for now. We can look forward to that reunion next season.


Fowles is a two-time WNBA Finals MVP and hasn’t missed a game since 2015. (Wikimedia Commons)

2. Los Angeles Sparks vs. Minnesota Lynx
August 26, 8 PM ET, CBSSN
Rivalry renewed. The Lynx and Sparks met in back-to-back WNBA Finals in 2016 and 2017, with each of them winning one title. Seimone Augustus switched sides this offseason, which only adds fuel to the fire. Both rosters look a bit different than the last time they met with a championship on the line, but you can always count on star power. WNBA all-time leading rebounder Sylvia Fowles is still getting it done on the interior for Minnesota. Napheesa Collier looks like she is on her way to stardom after collecting the 2019 Rookie of the Year award. Candace Parker is still one of the league’s best and fellow veteran Kristi Tolliver is back after a stint with Washington. If you are looking for some bad blood in a regular season matchup, this is your best bet to find it.


1. Chicago Sky vs. Seattle Storm
August 10, 9 pm, ESPN2
This is shaping up to be the game of the year, at least in the regular season. Last season, Courtney Vandersloot led the WNBA in assists. Natasha Howard led the league in steals. Both are off to strong starts already and Howard gets one of the best defensive players in the league back to help her in Breanna Stewart. Expect this matchup to be a chess match wrapped inside a heavyweight fight. There is an incredible level of talent of both sides and a lot of veteran superstars. Chicago and Seattle seem to be on a collision course for a meeting in the playoffs. If you are a fan of three-point shooting, great one-on-one matchups and lockdown defense, this is the game for you.