WNBA expansion in Bay Area comes at ‘excellent timing’ with interest in league, looming CBA and media rights deals

LAS VEGAS — The Bay Area expansion franchise has been a long time coming. Initial talks for the Golden State Warriors to have a WNBA team began in 2010 when Joe Lacob purchased the NBA team. The Warriors often talk about their commitment to “basketball 365,” emphasizing their year-round presence.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert has been engaged in talks about a Bay Area team throughout her tenure, which began in 2019. However, it wasn’t until recently that the final discussions ramped up and the league made the long-awaited announcement last week.

“It was one of those things where both sides realized this is going to happen at some point,” said Warriors president and COO Brandon Schneider. “But what’s the right time for it? And that’s what brings us to today.”

Now, the organization is transitioning from mere discussions to actually putting a team on the court. Although the team doesn’t have a name, logo, or specific leadership team yet, they will begin playing in spring 2025. The timeline from announcement to inaugural game is about 18 months, which is longer than in the past for expansion teams, but still relatively fast.

The team’s entry into the league comes at a fascinating time for the WNBA. The current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) can be terminated after the 2025 season, and the players’ union is expected to do so. Players are seeking higher salaries, especially with the controversial prioritization clause in place, as well as better revenue sharing.

Another issue in the forefront is the use of commercial flights, which the CBA currently mandates. However, players and team owners, such as Mark Davis of the Aces, Joe and Clara Wu Tsai of the Liberty, and Mat Ishbia of the Mercury, have advocated for charter flights. Schneider stated that the expansion ownership group supports what is best for the league but believes it is a matter for the league and players to work through.

The Bay Area franchise’s arrival coincides with the expiration of the media rights deal, which WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert has highlighted as an opportunity for increased revenue. Since its inception, the league has primarily aired games on ESPN networks, but with rising viewership and the expansion of deals with other companies, a better media rights deal could provide a significant boost.

Engelbert emphasized that the timing of the expansion team aligning with the CBA and media rights deal was not intentional but rather a result of the league’s business transformation and growth plan being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She believes it is excellent timing in relation to upcoming negotiations in these areas.

While the Bay Area franchise plays a vital role in these developments, their immediate focus is on internal logistics. One pressing question is the team’s name, which has generated much speculation and anticipation. Schneider shared that Commissioner Engelbert herself had a name idea but had asked him to remind her about it.

Schneider likened the situation to an engaged couple being bombarded with questions about their wedding date, saying, “That’s kind of what’s happening with our name.” Lacob, at the announcement ceremony, stated that the franchise will likely be called Golden State, in line with the Warriors’ name change in 1971 to represent the entire state of California. Schneider expects to have something to share regarding the team’s name in the next few months.

Internally, the next steps for the Warriors will involve building a dedicated staff for the WNBA franchise comprising a president, general manager, and coach. Schneider anticipates completing these hires over the next six to eight months. The general manager and coach will then focus on building a roster through an expansion draft, though the league will work through the details of the process.

On the business side, the team will establish sponsorships, with several of the Warriors’ current partners expressing interest in being involved with the WNBA team. Fortune 500 companies in the Bay Area provide a wealth of potential sponsors for the new franchise. As for media coverage, potential local broadcasters have reached out to the team, though no formal conversations have taken place yet.

The franchise has already sold over 3,000 season tickets for games at San Francisco’s Chase Center, the arena owned and operated by the Warriors. Owning the arena ensures that the WNBA team won’t face eviction due to other bookings, a significant advantage according to Commissioner Engelbert. In terms of facilities, the team will be headquartered and practice at the Warriors’ Oakland Facility, which Schneider believes is one of the top practice facilities in the WNBA.

Overall, the Warriors are excited about their entry into the WNBA and the growth opportunities it presents. As a successful and valuable franchise, the Warriors’ investment in women’s sports reflects the league’s increasing desirability for potential owners and partners.


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