WNBA's Engelbert 'confident' expansion to 16 teams possible by 2028 - ESPN

UniqueThis 20 Apr 15
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Engelbert: WNBA aiming to expand to 16 teams by 2028 (1:43)

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert discusses a potential timeline for the league to expand in coming years. (1:43)

NEW YORK -- WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert is "pretty confident" the league will expand to 16 teams by 2028 and that the goal is to bring in a 14th team for 2026, she told reporters Monday.

With women's basketball booming in popularity, players and fans alike have called for expansion, as the WNBA's current footprint of 12 teams, each with 12 roster spots, means the league can accommodate a maximum of 144 players.

The WNBA announced late last year it is adding a 13th team that will be owned and operated by the Golden State Warriors. It is the league's first new franchise since the Atlanta Dream in 2008.

"It's complex because you need the arena and practice facility and player housing and all the things you need, committed long-term ownership groups," Engelbert said before Friday's WNBA draft. "And so, the nice thing is we're getting a lot of calls, we're continuing to engage with cities."

Engelbert mentioned cities such as Philadelphia, Toronto, Portland, Denver and Nashville as well as South Florida as places the league is in discussions with for potential expansion franchises.

"These can either take a very long time to negotiate or it can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation," Engelbert added.

Among other topics, Engelbert said the WNBA will once again pay for charter flights during the upcoming season for the entire playoffs and for back-to-back games that require air travel. There will be more back-to-back sets in the 2024 campaign with the WNBA taking a long break for the Olympics in late July and early August. The league spent $4 million on charters in 2023, and it will do the same this year.

"No one wants [charters] more than I do for these players. We need to be in the right financial position," Engelbert said. "Just a few years ago, we were surviving; now we're going from survive to thrive. We want to do it at the appropriate time."

The league also is planning to hold an expansion draft for the Golden State franchise, which has yet to announce an official name, in December. The team will play at San Francisco's Chase Center, home of the Warriors, and practice at the Warriors' old practice facility in Oakland.

"It will happen before the college draft, and we'll share more details when we get closer to that," Engelbert said. "Talking to general managers and coaches and teams and owners, there will be an expansion draft this year, and it will probably be in December."

Engelbert knows this year's draft has more household names, including Iowa's Caitlin Clark, who helped the NCAA reach its best viewership in history for women's basketball with nearly 19 million fans watching the national title game against South Carolina. Among the other well-known players being drafted are LSU's Angel Reese, South Carolina's Kamilla Cardoso and Stanford's Cameron Brink.

The commissioner noted that the WNBA bought ads that ran during NCAA tournament broadcasts, starting with the Sweet 16.

"I'm thrilled we have household names coming in," Engelbert said. "We need to market around that."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.