The WNBA has wrapped up its 2022 season, but the offseason could be very interesting for Portland. The league has a short list of cities that could be ready for expansion by 2024, and Portland is on that list.
OPB’s Paul Marshall sat down with Rachel Bachman of the Wall Street Journal to talk about the WNBA coming to Portland again.
Paul Marshall: How soon is the WNBA trying to expand?
Rachel Bachman: Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has not given sort of an absolute timeframe, but she said that the league could expand by as many as two teams as soon as 2024.
Marshall: There is an effort to bring a team to Portland and there’s a Northwest entrepreneur who’s been active on this front, Kirk Brown. What do we know about Kirk?
Bachman: We know he most likely has enough money to buy and support a WNBA team. Kirk made his money reportedly more than a billion dollars co-founding the company that’s now called Zoom Info.
A representative for Brown has confirmed that Brown is interested in buying a WNBA Franchise.
That’s a huge start, historically, even — and when I say historically in women’s professional sports, this is pretty recent, we’re talking about the past couple of decades — historically, it’s been millionaires who have launched these teams and often they have not had the resources to plow in the funding required to keep what’s essentially a sports startup afloat.
The fact that there are now billionaires coming into the women’s sports space is a really good sign for women’s sports generally because most of them lose money to start out. Whoever buys in has to understand that a lot of investment is necessary at the start.
Marshall: Women’s sports have had an impact on Portland’s economy. What do you think a WNBA franchise would be in that mix for Portland?
Bachman: Generally speaking, sports franchises don’t necessarily have huge impacts on their economies.
There are exceptions, oftentimes it’s just shifting around where people spend their money. I know that’s not an exciting answer for Portland.
What I think Portland has done is demonstrated an infrastructure — and not just Portland, the state of Oregon — has demonstrated an infrastructure and a culture of supporting women’s sports generally.
I would trace that back to the powerhouse University of Portland soccer teams in the 1990s where the women would sell out their stadium. And more recently to the Oregon and Oregon State women’s basketball teams, which have had great attendance and great performance on court.
All those things play into the willingness of people to spend money on women’s sports, which ultimately is absolutely crucial to landing and supporting a franchise long term
Marshall: This isn’t Portland’s first go-around with an WNBA team. So how much different is the league now than it was then when Portland had a team 20 years ago. Are they better prepared?
Bachman: Yes. First of all, the league has a track record. It’s 26 years old now, instead of a few years old when the Portland Fire launched.
The WNBA received what it said is the largest single capital investment in a women’s sports league, $75 million earlier this year from a range of investors.
A number of owners are spending millions to build women-only training facilities,
That really has not happened before and that reflects a certain optimism but also realism from these owners that they think these teams will be around.
These leagues will be around and they’re going to make money on them. These assets are ones they expect to appreciate.
Marshall: There’s been a lot of public support for bringing a WNBA team to Portland. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden has written a letter. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert have responded to Ron Wyden’s letter. What’s next?
Bachman: I expect that the league is hard at work on narrowing its focus to potential expansion teams and expansion cities.
If it follows the timeline that it’s laid out, I think in the coming months those cities will get more contact from the league and we’ll find out whether they’re likely to be in or out.
If they’re in, then they’ll undertake a huge effort to scope out things like the number of season ticket holders, recruiting of corporate sponsors and securing a lease for the team.