October 29, 2021
How Alana Beard’s vision fits with Oakland WNBA expansion
AASEG leadership group and Oakland municipal leaders continue progress
This summer, AASEG received unanimous approval from the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum Authority for a non-binding term sheet that creates a clear path to housing a WNBA team in the Oakland Arena (formerly Oracle Arena). The plan also received unanimous support from the Oakland City Council and Alameda County Board of Supervisors.
With the NBA Golden State Warriors’ recent move across the Bay to San Francisco, Oakland Arena is currently without a basketball team. AASEG’s vision is to establish the W’s 13th team in the now vacant space.
AASEG’s mission is to create a WNBA team with a robust focus on social justice and community engagement run by Black women.
Some of the leading voices of the group are Oakland natives: Regional Director for Western Region of Mothers of Professional Basketball and Damian Lillard’s mother Gina Johnson-Lillard, local women’s basketball legend and attorney Jade Smith-Williams, AASEG Member and CEO of 360 Total Concept Shondra Scott and many more Black women leaders.
“This is an opportunity for Black women to be in a leadership and ownership role of a sport that we built,” Smith-Williams said at Thursday’s virtual press conference that garnered over 130 attendees. And the group’s newest leadership addition exemplifies this mission wholeheartedly.
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Beard, a two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, 2016 champion, social activist and businesswoman, began talks with AASEG this June and told reporters that immediately “everything just made sense.” After a couple of meetings, it was clear their missions aligned, and she quickly came on board.
According to Beard, AASEG Founder and President Ray Bobbit assured her they “wouldn’t let her fail.”
After Beard’s retirement from the Los Angeles Sparks in 2020, she and her family moved to the Bay Area, where she assumed a senior associate role at SVB Capital in Silicon Valley. However, her plans were always to come back to the W.
“I’ve always envisioned being an owner of a WNBA team,” Beard said.
The WNBA has not begun taking proposals for expansion teams but announced during the WNBA playoffs that they are beginning to research markets that could potentially support expansion.
“It’s an active data analysis that we’re doing,” Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a press conference earlier this month. “In the spring into the summer next year into the 2022 season, we’ll be sharing more. … [There’s] some interesting information for us to start having exploratory discussions with certain cities, and make sure that we can find great ownership groups to support a WNBA team and great fan bases.”
AASEG’s strategy is not to wait for the WNBA’s official expansion rollout but instead plan now and be fully ready to submit when the WNBA begins accepting proposals.
“We came into the situation from a standpoint of saying, ‘We would like an expansion team in Oakland.’ We weren’t necessarily waiting on the expansion strategy of the league per se. We just wanted… to be in a position to be prepared to execute immediately when that became available,” Bobbit said. “[The WNBA] has been receptive, very respectful and very helpful.”
Vice Mayor of Oakland Rebecca Kaplan first brought up the idea of an Oakland WNBA team in 2014, and after adjustments on the council in the last year, she has been able to take over as the Oakland Representative to the Coliseum Authority Board and re-up her commitment to a WNBA team.
Kaplan emphasized why Oakland is the perfect place for a new WNBA team, starting with logistics. Oakland currently houses an empty basketball arena, equipped with public transportation options, a nearby airport and a close Amtrak station where former Monarch fans could easily arrive. Beyond its logistical prowess, Oakland offers incredible community basketball support and a history of social justice that fits perfectly with the WNBA’s model and morals.
With unanimous support from local government and a well-thought-out strategy, this puts serious pressure on the WNBA to make expansion decisions.
However, one of the most important questions remains: if there’s Bay Area WNBA expansion, where in the Bay will the team be located?
Although there’s a clear pathway to expansion in Oakland, there may be other options. Warriors’ owner Joe Lacob was an early ABL investor and has long expressed interest in owning a WNBA team, which he repeated to the San Francisco Chronicle this week.
In addition, former Oakland Athletics pitcher Dave Stewart said in July that AASEG had received “preferential treatment” on their Coliseum bid and that his group had been overlooked by the city despite a higher bid.
Currently, AASEG is the only Bay Area group with a formal expansion proposal, and Bobbit said that AASEG’s proposal is unique due to its stable capital stream and guaranteed arena use. So although there may be more options down the line, AASEG is the only fully formulated Bay Area option right now.
AASEG has made it clear that they have no interest in non-Oakland Bay Area expansion. After lively Twitter and press conference discussions of potential team names, AASEG gaurenteed the team would be uniquely Oakland.
Besides potential Bay Area expansion competition, other factors may obstruct AASEG’s success. The first is the recent exodus of men’s sports teams out of Oakland.
Over the past three years, the city has lost the Warriors to San Francisco, the NFL’s Raiders to Las Vegas and possibly the MLB’s Athletics in the near future. This creates both a sports vacuum in the city and also raises questions of the city’s fitness to secure a long-lasting team.
AASEG leadership and media personnel also brought up the relatively sparse showing from the Oakland government at the press conference. Kaplan and two former city managers were the only identified political figures in attendance.
“You would think that this press conference would be filled with the city’s political leadership beyond Rebecca [Kaplan], and that’s what happens in other areas,” AASEG Member and former Oakland City Manager Robert Bobb said. “I’m hoping the message will be taken back to the city and county leadership that this is truly a rallying opportunity for the City of Oakland.”
Despite potential opposition, AASEG continues to pursue a formal expansion proposal. Bobbit said that the process after approval takes around 18 months to assemble a roster and marketing strategy.