November 1, 2023
Portland WNBA expansion plans halted
Commissioner Engelbert cites impending Moda Center renovations in letter to senator
As our Howard Megdal reported last month, the Portland WNBA expansion bid had reached the WNBA Board of Governors level. But in a dramatic reversal, The Oregonian reported Wednesday that plans with Kirk Brown, the billionaire co-founder of ZoomInfo, had come to a screeching halt.
A letter from WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden was published online which said “It became clear that Portland is an ideal destination for a WNBA franchise.” The letter further said that the prospective ownership group has worked alongside the WNBA to communicate with the city about the Moda Center, but that ultimately issues cannot be resolved in time. The letter to the senator notes renovations to the Moda Center likely to take place over the course of two summers as the main cause for concern, and that “consideration for a WNBA franchise for Portland will be deferred for now until the timing and scope of the arena improvements are settled.”
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Soon after this letter was published, this rationale was challenged. A source told The Oregonian that Blazers owner Jody Allen did not plan to conduct major renovation to the Moda Center until 2027, and even then, for only one summer. Given that the Bay Area expansion team is slated to begin play in 2025, this would have given the Portland team two full seasons at Moda before one season elsewhere, after they’d developed. The source shared that they were “surprised” by Engelbert’s statement. The WNBA did not immediately respond to an email asking when Engelbert was first made aware of the renovation plans.
But the plans to renovate Moda Center had been public for some time, in general terms, and a league source told our Howard Megdal on Wednesday that the renovation issue was common knowledge back in the spring of 2023. The league moved forward with this bid anyway.
According to a spokesperson for Senator Wyden, “Sen. Wyden is committed to continue working hard with everybody in Portland who’s teaming up to bring our city and state a WNBA franchise. Portland and all of Oregon have long proven a hotbed for women’s sports, and he has no doubt the WNBA would succeed here in a similar fashion.” Brown’s team is currently declining to comment.
Howard Megdal contributed reporting to this story.