During her 33-year career at Deloitte, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert witnessed how the tech industry can be a driving force for economies. She thinks that tech could power a WNBA in the Bay Area.
Engelbert, speaking at a Sports Business Journal event on Wednesday, said that it "doesn’t seem right" for the Bay Area - one of the centers of the tech sector - to not have a professional team. "We are definitely looking into that."
Although there is no public timeline for expansion, Engelbert's acknowledgement of the Bay Area may encourage two groups who are interested in landing a team. The Golden State Warriors have expressed interest in a WNBA franchise, and a WNBA franchise is at the heart of plans to redevelop Oakland Coliseum & Oakland Arena by the African American Sports & Entertainment Group.
Everest Talent Management, and former WNBA player Alana Beard who are working on AASEG’s WNBA plan, want negotiations to begin for a local team playing at Oakland Arena, the former home of Warriors, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority general manager Henry Gardner wrote last month to his board.
Gardner wrote: "They're confident that Oakland will receive a WNBA team with a relocated or expanded franchise in the near future."
There is no official expansion process for the WNBA and no teams are known to be available.
Brandon Schneider, Warriors' President and COO, said: "We are interested in a new team." But the timing and economics have to work."
The ability of the Bay Area team to attract the tech industry for both its own sponsorships as well as to support the league could be key to a successful WNBA bid. WNBA and NBA sponsorships have come from companies like Google, SAP AT&T, Microsoft, AT&T, and AT&T. The WNBA counts Novato's 2K, which publishes NBA2K, as well as YouTubeTV, Meta, and DoorDash, among its Bay Area consumer-focused sponsors.
By the end of 2018, the league had hoped to select two new expansion cities that would be ready for play by 2024 or 2025. Engelbert noted that groups from Denver, Austin Nashville, Charlotte, and Toronto, where the WNBA sold 20,000 tickets to a preseason match on Saturday, have also expressed interest.
She said that Engelbert had already visited Portland, and would be visiting other cities in the future.
It may be difficult to determine the amount that a franchise should charge, considering the increasing game viewing and other metrics of WNBA and NCAA Women's Basketball. Last year, some estimates put the fee at $15m or more.
Engelbert explained that in order to reduce the list of possible WNBA cities, from about 100, officials looked at 25 sets of data covering demographics, psychology, NCAA women's viewing, arenas, and the depth and size of Fortune 500 companies and Russell 2000 small-caps.
She said, "You need it all." "You also need long-term owners who are committed."
Engelbert stated that one of these analyses showed that some wannabe WNBA teams' markets watched more games and bought more merchandise than some of the current 12 teams.
She said that Engelbert's staff has also been "transforming" the WNBA business model so that existing and new owners will have a better chance of long-term success.