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WNBA expansion to Toronto? Billionaire Larry Tanenbaum pursuing women’s basketball team for Canada | Sporting News

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Basketball has found a home in Canada. The NBA’s Raptors have given prospective teams a blueprint to success in the country, as the sport has blossomed in popularity over the past decade. 

Toronto is already the home for the Raptors, but could another professional basketball squad be on the horizon in the Six? 

The WNBA is growing more and more each year. The women’s professional basketball league currently has 12 teams competing, but all are in the United States. A 13th based out of San Francisco is expected to join ahead of the 2025 season. 

Leagues like an even number of clubs. It just makes more sense that way, and a 14th WNBA team is likely to be introduced at some point in the near future. Toronto is a candidate to land that bid. 

Here is the latest on a potential WNBA expansion team in Toronto. 

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Is Toronto getting a WNBA expansion team?

The city of Toronto has not yet been tabbed with a WNBA team. However, Larry Tanenbaum is doing his part to change that. 

The Canadian billionaire is reportedly pursuing an expansion team in the league, according to CBC Sports. Tanenbaum is currently seeking the team through his holding company, the Kilmer Group. 

Tanenbaum has a major impact on professional sports in the Ontario city. He is a minority owner and chairman of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, the sporting company that owns the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Toronto FC of the MLS, the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL, and Toronto Marlies of the AHL. If there was going to be someone to blaze the trail on the business side for women’s basketball in Toronto, Tanenbaum is the guy. 

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Tanenbaum and his Kilmer Group are expected to meet with WNBA leadership to discuss the bid, according to CBC Sports. There is the potential for an official announcement to come as soon as May. 

Michael Bartlett, president of Basketball Canada, said he is fully on board with the idea of the WNBA coming to Toronto. 

“Two specific things would help strengthen women’s basketball in Canada,” Bartlett said. “A domestic league for women, and then a professional WNBA team that would have the same lightning rod effect as the Raptors did.” 

Toronto has been named multiple times as a potential expansion location in the WNBA. In May of 2023, Scotiabank Arena hosted a sold-out preseason game for the league. At the time, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that Toronto was “on the short list” for future destinations. 

While Scotiabank Arena would be a stellar location for a women’s team, it’s unlikely that the venue would be able to house the Raptors, Maple Leafs, and a potential WNBA team. Tanenbaum is reportedly looking at Coca-Cola Coliseum, currently home to the Marlies, as a possible venue, CBC Sports said. It has a capacity of about 8,000. 

WNBA expansion cities, ranked

The Sporting News ranked potential WNBA expansion cities last summer when the topic of expansion was hot. Here is a look at the top markets, with Toronto placing in the top three. 

1. Denver

Give us more land-locked, mountain-state teams. The Rockies now have a basketball championship thanks to the Nuggets, and Colorado as a whole does not have a professional women’s sports team. The closest a team has been to the Centennial State was when the defunct Starzz were in Utah. To put a team in Colorado, making it the first in the range in 21 years, would be a monumental move in women’s sports history.

2. Charlotte, N.C.

The Charlotte Sting need to make a return, for the love of the basketball gods. It would be such a good name to pair with the region’s current NBA team — the Hornets — and the Sting have a legacy. Their decade in North Carolina was cut short when they folded in 2007 after serving as one of the first eight original teams from the league’s first season in 1997.

Fun fact: Did you know Dawn Staley played for the Sting? She was selected ninth overall in the 1999 draft and played in Charlotte until 2005 as a point guard. She led them to the WNBA championship game in 2001, though they never won a WNBA title.

3. Toronto

The 6 proved it could be a great market for the WNBA during the preseason. On May 13, Scotiabank Arena was packed to the brim with an ear-splitting, excited crowd to watch Chicago and Minnesota square off in a historic battle.

The culture of basketball is bigger than putting the ball in the hoop in Canada: It’s about going to the games and engaging with the community. That the preseason game in Toronto sold out as fast as it did speaks volumes. The Raptors would do well with a sister team.

4. Philadelphia

Do you see how Philly fans are with the Eagles? Diehard, to-the-end, out-for-blood kind of people. Now imagine them fiending over and supporting a WNBA team.

The pure energy of Philadelphia is enough to say this city needs a WNBA team sooner rather than later. It is a sports city, through and through. Engelbert is from the Philadelphia area and recognizes that. Her father actually played for Naismith Hall of Fame coach Jack Ramsay at Saint Joseph’s in the 1950s.

5. Nashville, Tenn.

Nashville is one of several large tourism cities in America (especially for brides-to-be). They already have a reputation for being a music dynasty, nicknamed “Music City.” Why not throw the WNBA into the pot?

They have the Titans, Predator,s and Nashville SC to boost their athletic resume and credibility, and it would do them well to add to that with a WNBA team — much like Colorado, they do not have one or have ever had one.

Axios reported in 2022 there were roughly 30,000 bachelorette bookings in Nashville from the BACH app alone. Why not throw a WNBA game into their special weekends?

Sara Tidwell contributed to this article

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