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WNBA expansion team ‘a major milestone,’ Toronto basketball fans and players say | CBC News

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Toronto basketball fans and players say news of a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) team based in the city is not only exciting but long overdue.

CBC Sports reported early Friday that Kilmer Sports Inc., headed by Toronto billionaire Larry Tanenbaum, has been granted an expansion franchise with the WNBA, the league’s 14th team.

Keesa Koomalsingh, the founder of Toronto first paid women’s basketball league, called the news “a major milestone for past hoopers, for current hoopers, for future hoopers.”

“This is for the people who have been putting in the work and who have been supporting women’s basketball for years,” she told CBC Toronto.

Sports fans said that they’re excited for the new team and that it’s a testament to the city’s passion for basketball. 

Aaliyah Edwards poses with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert after being selected sixth overall pick by the Washington Mystics during the WNBA draft April 15. (Getty Images)

“It’s a perfect place to grow basketball,” Jacob Veenstra said. “One hundred per cent I would go. I’d be really excited to see that.”

A formal announcement is expected May 23 in Toronto, according to four people with knowledge of the deal but who are not authorized to speak about it.

The team is expected to begin playing in May 2026, but WNBA did not confirm.

Much anticipated expansion 

Raptors sideline reporter Savanna Hamilton says many fans believed Canada would get a team of its own after the WNBA played a sold out game at Scotiabank Arena last year, and then again in Edmonton on Saturday.

“It felt like it was a matter of when, and it was almost like a carrot dangling in front of basketball fans’ faces,” the former varsity basketball athlete told CBC News Network.

The growth of women’s sports in the city was already well underway with the Professional Women’s Hockey League Toronto team playing its inaugural season. The team finished the regular season first in the standings, with playoffs currently underway.

A black woman with curly hair poses for a portrait.
Savanna Hamilton, former Ryerson Rams forward, says the WNBA expansion reflects the excitement around women’s basketball. (Submitted by Savanna Hamilton)

“We’ve seen the PWHL really thrive here in the past couple of months,” Raptors HQ editor-in-chief Chelsea Leite said.

Leite says one reason why Toronto was able to finally get its own team is that new TV deals have allowed more people to watch games in Canada, the U.S. and beyond. 

“The excitement was always there. It was just the accessibility that needed to progress in order to allow people to interact with the game on a level that would grow it to where it is today.”

Hayley McGoldrick, the lead women’s basketball writer at SportsNet, said that from a logistics standpoint, the WNBA had to clear a major hurdle that was blocking it from getting a Canadian team: how to get players to and from far away games.

WATCH | What a WNBA team means for the city: 

Toronto is getting a WNBA team. What it means for the city, players and fans

Women’s professional basketball is coming to Toronto in May 2026. CBC Sports has learned that Kilmer Sports Inc., headed by Toronto billionaire Larry Tanenbaum, has been granted an expansion franchise with the Women’s National Basketball Association.

On Tuesday, the WNBA announced that it was spending $50 million US over the next two years to get a full-time charter flight service

“The kind of last puzzle piece that had to fit, was the charter flights, because that would have been such a [logistical] nightmare,” McGoldrick said.

“So the fact that two days ago they announced that the WNBA was getting charter flights, that was kind of thing that was the last barrier to Toronto getting a team.”

‘A whole new market’

Frédéric Dimanche, the director of Ted Rogers School of Management, says there’s no doubt that the new team will excite many Torontonians and grow women’s sport. But it also has the potential to have a strong economic impact. 

“There will be some economic activity obviously, through the new jobs that are being created because of this, through the sales of the tickets, and the food and the beverage and possibly some hotel nights,” he said.

“But it’s way too early to see what will be the long-term impact, especially from a tourism perspective. We’ll have to wait and see for that.”

A women's basketball player possesses the ball with her right hand while being guarded.
Kia Nurse and the Canadian women’s basketball team will play at the 2024 Paris Olympics. (AFP via Getty Images)

Dimanche says even if the team isn’t able to attract international fans, it will attract a local crowd. 

“It may be the same as the Raptors customers, it may be different. I think there is a whole new market to bring to the arena… people who possibly were not going to the Raptors [games] because it’s too expensive, people who love basketball who will find a chance to find first-class basketball, women’s basketball at the arena.”

Hamilton says the WNBA’s growing popularity is a sign of the team’s future success and the growing enthusiasm around women’s sports. 

“I think society’s getting to this place where there is just an appetite for women’s sports, and especially women’s sports in Canada.”

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