As WNBA expansion push grows louder, Bay Area bidders keep quiet

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has said the WNBA will have news on expansion later this season, both the San Francisco and Oakland potential bids have remained silent all summer

The competition for a WNBA expansion team appears to be heating up.

Cathy Engelbert, the league’s commissioner, has fueled speculation by saying the league will have news to announce later this season, and she’s made several public visits to potential expansion cities, including one to Denver earlier this month.

The Bay Area is one place she hasn’t visited publicly.

However, sources tell this news organization that the WNBA has recently visited San Francisco and the Golden State Warriors’ Chase Center.

The African-American Sport and Entertainment Group (AASEG) and Everest Talent Management, the leaders of Oakland’s competing bid, declined to say whether the WNBA had visited the city. Everest, which recently joined the Oakland bid, is a company that assists ex-athletes in transitioning into non-playing careers.

One of the many reasons why the WNBA’s expansion process has left many people perplexed is the lack of clarity on visits. A bigger reason has been Engelbert’s contradictory statements — her list of cities under consideration has shifted between 100, 20, and 10, and she has been similarly evasive about the timing of expansion. However, she appeared to set a firm timeline of “later this season” at the WNBA All-Star Game last month, and she has made it clear in other comments that the league is looking to add two teams.

Engelbert has also stated that she wants at least 18 months between the announcement and the first games of the new teams, both for the sake of the teams and to give the 12 existing clubs a full offseason to shape their rosters ahead of an expansion draft.

That makes her public appearances, beginning in Portland in February and now in Denver, all the more noteworthy. In May, the WNBA held a sold-out preseason game in Toronto, a city Engelbert has praised on numerous occasions.

What role does the Bay Area play? Engelbert previously stated that it “doesn’t seem right” that the Bay Area does not have a WNBA team. However, the lack of a public visit, as well as the market’s two competing bids, leave things unclear as the expansion clock ticks down.

The WNBA did not respond to numerous comment requests.

The Warriors, like the Oakland bidders, declined to comment for this story, but they did reiterate previous statements about a possible WNBA expansion team: If the buy-in price and timing are right, their interest in a team remains high.

In July, Warriors owner Joe Lacob told this news organization that San Francisco “would be a phenomenal place” for a WNBA team. However, the team appears to have had no contact with the city government regarding the WNBA.

San Francisco mayor London Breed said last month at a US women’s soccer watch party that she hasn’t spoken with the WNBA or the Warriors about bringing a team to the city.

“There have been some conversations,” she said, “not necessarily directly with the Warriors, but with other people who are looking at acquiring a women’s team here in the Bay Area.”

Breed later stated that the organization she spoke with, AASEG, “decided to focus on Oakland.”

The Warriors could easily get a WNBA expansion franchise without the mayor’s involvement. They already have a world-class arena, and the NBA owns approximately 42% of the WNBA.

But having Breed’s office on board would undoubtedly help the Warriors, especially given that the mostly white Warriors ownership group is competing for a team in a majority Black league with a majority Black women-led bid across the Bay in Oakland.

Since announcing in February that it was purchasing the city’s half of the Coliseum complex, the AASEG has been very busy this summer at the Coliseum location. Since then, the A’s have announced plans to relocate to Las Vegas, causing the other half of the Coliseum’s ownership to become uncertain and forcing AASEG to join forces with the Oakland Roots and Soul to seek a temporary soccer stadium on the complex.

Since April, AASEG has only issued one public statement.

The silence comes as other cities across the continent make loud pushes and the WNBA appears to be getting closer to its first expansion since 2008.

Add it all up, and Bay Area fans may find themselves facing the reality of missing out on this round of expansion after appearing to be a top option earlier in the process.

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