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.

The WNBA did not confirm the Toronto move.

“We continue to engage in productive conversations with interested ownership groups in a number of markets and the granting of any expansion teams requires a vote of the WNBA and NBA board of governors,” the league said.

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 Engelbert 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.”

WATCH | What a Toronto WNBA team means for the city, players and fans:

Toronto is getting a WNBA team. What it means for the city, players and fans

Women’s professional basketball is coming to Toronto in May 2026. 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.

Mayor Olivia Chow said in a television interview on Friday she was aware there was movement on Toronto getting a women’s basketball team.

“Wait for it. Hopefully, there will be something later on,” said Chow in an interview with local news channel CP24. “Basketball, it’s just great and having role models, it’s time.

“Hopefully, there will be good news soon and I can’t wait for that to happen.”

A source said the team would play at Coca-Cola Coliseum, an 8,000-seat arena at Toronto’s Exhibition Place 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 pre-season 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 | How sports fans are reacting to potential Toronto WNBA expansion team:

How sports fans are reacting to Toronto’s WNBA expansion team

CBC Sports has learned that Kilmer Sports Inc., headed by Toronto billionaire Larry Tanenbaum, has been granted an expansion franchise with the WNBA. The official announcement is set for May 23 and the team is expected to begin playing in 2026. Ali Chiasson spoke to excited Torontonians outside Scotiabank Arena.

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