Portland Makes its Pitch for Expansion WNBA Franchise
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert says she last visited Portland a few years back and watched a women's game between Oregon and Oregon State. She was struck by fans who were “rocking the house that night."
So it's no surprise that Portland is a potential destination for a WNBA expansion team.
Engelbert was the guest of Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, at an event Monday to demonstrate community support for a team.
“The first thing when I came in, I said, ‘Ok, we have 12 teams in a country of over 300 million people. That is not enough,’” Engelbert said. “So that’s why we do talk about expansion, and you have to be in more cities to grow more fandom. So that leads me to be here today.”
Among those trying to persuade the commissioner that Portland would be a good fit were Oregon women's coach Kelly Graves, Oregon State women's coach Scott Rueck and representatives from the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers and the Portland Thorns of the National Women's Soccer League.
Portland previously had a WNBA team, the Portland Fire, which played three seasons before folding in 2002. The late Paul Allen, owner of the Blazers, declined to buy the Fire when the NBA sold ownership of WNBA franchises.
The WNBA was launched in 1997 with eight teams. The most recent expansion team was the Atlanta Dream, which began playing in 2008.
Engelbert said last year her hope was to expand by two more teams to start in 2025 at the latest.
Among the other cities considered candidates for a new franchise are Toronto, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Nashville, Tennessee. The Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx will play a preseason game in Toronto on May 13.
“We would love to see the WNBA come to Portland and we would be right behind it to make sure that it was a success, and we would support it. We just feel really good about about that partnership and the conversations that we’ve been having," said Dewayne Hankins, the Blazers' president of business operations.
Monday's event was hosted by The Sports Bra, hailed as the country's first sports bar dedicated solely to women's sports. Owner Jenny Nguyen hosted the event.