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Toronto awarded WNBA’s 1st franchise outside U.S.

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Toronto has been awarded the WNBA’s first franchise outside the United States, with the expansion team set to begin play in 2026.

The team will be owned by Larry Tanenbaum-led Kilmer Sports Ventures. Tanenbaum also is the chairman and a minority owner of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns several Toronto sports franchises, including the NBA’s Raptors and NHL’s Maple Leafs.

“Growing internationally, I’ve been trying to think through the next steps on a global platform,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told The Associated Press.

“It helps us reach new audiences and bring in new partners. The thing I love about going to another country is that the young girls and boys get to see professional basketball for women is important, too.”

Toronto will be the WNBA’s 14th franchise, with the expansion Golden State Valkyries set to start play next year.

“Our Toronto sports franchises are thriving, but we have been missing one critical piece — women’s professional sports,” Tanenbaum said. “The world is finally taking notice of something that’s been there all along — the immense talent, passion and competition in women’s sports. So, once again, I saw an opportunity and knew we were in the right place at the right time to bring Canada’s first WNBA team to Toronto. And now we have, making sports history.”

Toronto will play at the 8,700-seat Coca-Cola Coliseum at Exhibition Place and will occasionally be able to move up to the Scotiabank Arena. Opened in 1921, the Coca-Cola Coliseum is also home to the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies.

“Women’s sports is good businesses,” Tanenbaum said. “Just look around — it’s not a moment, but a movement, and it’s just the beginning. The investment that we’ll put into the franchise will also be no different than the other franchises.”

Former Raptors executive to be team president: report

Tanenbaum said the team will also play some games in Vancouver and Montreal. As far as the name of the team, he said they’d take their time and “solicit public input.”

Kilmer Sports Ventures has committed to building the team a practice facility, but until that is ready, the team will train at the University of Toronto’s Goldring Centre for High-Performance Sport.

Engelbert said the league’s exhibition games in Canada the last two seasons showed the passion of the fans in the country for women’s basketball.

“When I was up for the preseason game, Kia (Nurse) and I did a youth clinic. The reaction from young girls to Kia and what she stands for is that they so admire her,” Engelbert said.

Ahead of the league’s official announcement on Thursday morning, Rachel Brady of the Globe and Mail reported that former Toronto Raptors vice-president Teresa Resch will be introduced as the president of the expansion team.

Resch had worked as the Raptors’ VP of basketball operations and player development since 2013 and was part of the team’s front office during their championship run in 2019.

She left the job in March of 2024, and Sportsnet’s Michael Grange reported that Resch was expected to stay in Toronto following her departure.

Nurse, meanwhile, is one of a handful of Canadian players in the WNBA, and more are on the way.

“No doubt it’s helpful to have household names,” Engelbert said.

The commissioner expects the league to get to 16 teams by 2028.

“We’ve already had a lot of interest and it got more tangible and serious from a fair amount of cities after the draft,” Engelbert said. “We are in a good position to get to 16 by certainly’ 27-28.”

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