WNBA expansion moves closer in Oakland

Vice Mayor of Oakland: WNBA team in Bay Area is a "perfect alignment"

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WNBA fans calling for league expansion got some good news on Friday. The African American Sports and Entertainment Group (AASEG) received approval from the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum Authority to negotiate a lease for the use of the Oakland Arena for a WNBA team. The authority voted unanimously in favor of opening negotiations, which now enables AASEG to submit a proposal to the WNBA for the league’s consideration and analysis.

The Oakland Arena served as the home arena for the Golden State Warriors for nearly 50 years, before the MNBA franchise relocated to San Francisco in 2019. It currently sits vacant adjacent to RingCentral Coliseum, current home field of the Oakland Athletic Major League Baseball team. The arena is located roughly 30 miles north of Maples Pavilion, home arena of the perennial women’s college basketball powerhouse and 2021 national champion Stanford Cardinal.

City Councilor at-large and Vice Mayor Oakland Rebecca Kaplan has been instrumental in moving the process forward. Kaplan was appointed in January to serve on the board that oversees the Oakland arena, which has allowed her to move the arena lease negotiation process forward.

In an interview with The Next’s Howard Megdal featured on the Locked on Women’s Basketball podcast, Kaplan made the case for Oakland the next site for WNBA expansion:

The Bay area has a very strong presence for women’s basketball, including the [University of California] and Stanford [women’s college basketball] communities and teams. We also are a community in the Bay Area that values social justice, that values equality and women’s rights, that speaks up for the principle that Black Lives Matter and that both women’s leadership and Black women’s leadership are important.

The proposal we have in Oakland from the AASEG is a Black-lead and Black women-lead organization. All of these factors coming together with the fact that we have an arena that is on public transit, on the freeway, easy access to the airport, central access to the region…we really have the perfect storm of the fanbase, the community, and now a group that’s bidding to bring a team that really shares those values with our community.

Asked during last week’s all-star game in Las Vegas about league expansion, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert gave her usual measured response:

I said this would be something I would be talking with you more seriously about if it wasn't for the pandemic. But given that we had no fans last year and limited fans this year -- we're evaluating it constantly. I would say about this time next year we'll be talking a lot more seriously about what that path looks like, how many teams, where, what cities. 

We have to do very thoughtful analysis about that. That's what we're working on now. We're starting that analysis, but nothing yet to commit to. Nothing yet to talk about other than I do think I'd like to consider it when you're only in 12 markets and you're in a country of our size and scale.  There are some cities where you would think a WNBA team would thrive. Those are the things we're going to start to look at. It will be data-driven. It will be driven by fans. It will be driven by the popularity of the game at the college level. All those factors. 

If a WNBA franchise does land in Oakland, it would be the third WNBA team in league history based in the state of California. The Sacramento Monarchs and Los Angeles Sparks were two of the founding teams when the league tipped off in 1997. The Monarchs decade-plus stay in Sacramento included a 2005 WNBA championship before the franchise ultimately folded in 2009. The Los Angeles Sparks are still active today and have won three WNBA championships (2001, 2002, 2016).

The American Basketball League (ABL), a professional women’s basketball league that emerged alongside the WNBA in 1996 and folded shortly after in 1998, included two California-based teams, the San Jose Lasers and the Long Beach Stingrays.

Beyond basketball, Vice Mayor of Oakland Rebecca Kaplan believes that Oakland and the WNBA align because of their shared values.

“It is not new to Oakland to be at the center of movements for social justice,” said Kaplan, “and the fact that the WNBA is also centering these same goals is a perfect alignment and part of why it is certainly my hope and belief that the WNBA will choose to agree to expand in Oakland.”