WNBA commissioner addresses Philly expansion possibility


May 24, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert addresses fans during a championship ring ceremony for the Chicago Sky before a WNBA basketball game against the Indiana Fever at Wintrust Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The WNBA celebrated its 2022 All-Star Game in Chicago over the weekend, and with a month remaining in the league's 26th season some fans are already eyeing the biggest storyline of the offseason: expansion.

The league hasn't added a new team since 2008 when the Atlanta Dream joined up, but commissioner Cathy Engelbert told The Athletic earlier this summer that the league hopes to identify one or two cities for expansion sometime before the end of the year. The teams could be playing by 2024, Engelbert said.

Philadelphia basketball fans have been clamoring for a team of their own in the league for some time now, so it's no surprise that Engelbert fielded a question about Philly as a possible locale during her media availability at the All-Star Game.

Engelbert, who grew up just across the Delaware River in Collingswood and played college basketball at Lehigh University, explained she knows a thing or two about Philly and acknowledged the potential in the city as a WNBA market:

"People who don't know this, I'm from the Philadelphia area. My father was actually drafted into the NBA in 1957 by the Detroit Pistons after playing for St. Joe's University for Naismith Hall of Famer Jack Ramsay, so I have - I know Philly and I know it's a great basketball city. Obviously you have Villanova, who's won a couple national championships over the last couple years. 

"So, definitely see the potential in Philly for a market. We have to evaluate whether, is it a good market for women's basketball? Obviously we have players, and Dawn Staley who is coaching South Carolina is from Philly, and Natasha Cloud and others. 

"Philly is definitely on a list. Again, I said we had 100 cities on a list so I could name probably 15 where we think we've narrowed the list down to, and Philly's on that list."

Philly's on that list? You love to see it.

The push for a team in Philly has been underway for some time now. In March of last year, Delaware County native and current WNBA star Natasha Cloud - who Engelbert name-checked - detailed some of the efforts:

"It's not necessarily a secret - that's what I was told - we are trying to get a Philly team. It has been in the works for a year and a half. Put a little pressure, not only on the city, but on the [WNBA], too. Our thing - for us to progress, our league needs to expand. We have to have more than 144 jobs. [...] Listen, it's in the works. I'm trying my damndest to bring a team back to Philly."

Frankly, if the league doesn't choose Philadelphia it's going to feel like a gigantic mistake - both for the culture, and for the bottom line.

As of October 2019, Philadelphia was the fourth-largest television market in the country, according to Nielsen's estimates. The three ahead of Philadelphia — New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago — all have WNBA teams. Six of the 10 largest markets, and 10 of the 15 largest markets, by Nielsen's estimates have WNBA teams.

Philly is the right choice in terms of being a legendary basketball city with iconic women's basketball figures, but it's also the right choice to help keep pushing the league in a positive direction in terms of dollars and eyeballs.

There are other cities that make sense, too. San Francisco in particular feels like a smart option as the Bay Area is enthralled by the last decade of Warriors insanity. Toronto would be a savvy addition, an opportunity to fold in Canadian fans to a currently United States-only league.

So Philly in the WNBA is not a done deal... but it feels very possible. It seems we'll find out soon enough.

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