WNBA in Toronto: Canada is ready for a women’s professional team

TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA - 2017/09/22: The entrance of the Air Canada Centre. There is sunlight reflecting from the glass. The famous place will be renamed starting on January 2018. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA - 2017/09/22: The entrance of the Air Canada Centre. There is sunlight reflecting from the glass. The famous place will be renamed starting on January 2018. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images) /

There have been whispers of a WNBA expansion lately. Of the remaining NBA cities, Toronto should be a top candidate. There are many reasons the city and league make a perfect pairing.

In 22 years, the WNBA has grown from eight teams, to sixteen, back to twelve. After expanding too quickly early on, the league has remained stable for nine years.

Over the past two years, the WNBA has seen significant improvements in both attendance and ratings.  One way the league can capitalize on its recent spike in popularity: expansion.

Back in 2015, WNBA president Laurel Richie discussed the idea of expansion “a couple of years down the road”. The idea was presented when the league was struggling. Now that the league is experiencing a period of growth: It’s time to act.

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Expansion will make the league more competitive and opens up more opportunities for players. Rookies and younger players get to play more allowing for a chance for talent to develop. Opening up to new cities also gives the WNBA a chance to nurture women’s basketball more.

Toronto should be a frontrunner in getting a WNBA expansion team. There is plenty of reason to believe it will not only be a good fit but a rousing success.

A Hotbed for Women’s Basketball

Canada is mostly known for its hockey but basketball is arguably just as popular. Thanks partly to the Raptors’ surging popularity, Canada’s basketball culture keeps growing.

A 2014 study revealed that it is the most popular sport among Canadian girls aged 3-17 and it is the second-most played among new immigrants.

It’s unsurprising given how much more internationally renowned basketball is than hockey. It is second only to soccer as a team sport.

"“Have you seen the girls coming out of this country? They’re hooping, man. They’re hooping! The two-ball dribbles, crossing people up, shooting the three. And they’ve got mad attitude, man. – Isiah Thomas, former Raptors executive"

Canada has one of the best national women’s basketball teams. The country has also produced great players like Kia Nurse, Natalie Achonwa, and Kayla Alexander. All of which parlayed magnificent college careers into significant roles in the WNBA.

A Nation More than a City

Toronto has s population of greater than 2.8 million making it the third-largest between the United States and Canada. New York and Los Angeles are the only WNBA markets larger than Toronto. But the city’s inhabitants are far from the team’s only supporters.

Much like the Raptors, the WNBA franchise may play in Toronto but it will represent the entire country. Wherever the team plays, Canadian fans are sure to follow.

The team will not only get local coverage but be featured nationally as well. And if the team lands a budding Canadian star like Achonwa or Nurse, its easy to see it becoming one of the most  popular in the league.

More than just Business or Entertainment

Currently, the WNBA still struggles to make a profit. James L. Dolan, who owns and operates the New York Liberty, lamented about handing the team back to the league due to how unprofitable it has been.

The WNBA benefits from the NBA’s partnership with ESPN and the revenue they generate. But the $25 million they get is only a tenth of what the NBA is making: $2.6 billion.

Despite this, the WNBA remains a staple in North American sports culture because its existence transcends simple business. It is a beacon not just for women’s basketball players but female athletes in general.

Canada is a nation that prides itself on equal rights and Toronto has a reputation as one of the world’s most progressive cities.

Yet the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) is the nation’s only pro women’s leagues. Most European nations host their own leagues and South American countries are following suit.

"“It is important for your young girls to be able to have the opportunity to see strong, powerful, successful women doing what they love. ” – Natalie Achonwa, Indiana Fever Forward"

Having the WNBA in Toronto not gives more visibility to women’s basketball but will also open new doors for girls across the nation. It gives them players to look up to and will only further develop the nation’s rapidly growing basketball culture.

Toronto will be the perfect place for a new WNBA team.