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WNBA Toronto team plans to play across Canada

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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.

Larry Tanenbaum-led Kilmer Sports Ventures is paying $50 million for the team. Tanenbaum also is the chairman and a minority owner of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the Toronto sports giant that owns the NHL’s Maple Leafs and NBA’s Raptors along with Toronto’s MLS and Canadian Football League franchises.

“Growing internationally, I’ve been trying to think through next steps on a global platform,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told The Associated Press ahead of the official announcement Thursday morning. “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 told the AP. “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 have the ability to move up to the Scotiabank Arena on occasion. Opened in 1921, the Coca-Cola Coliseum also is the home of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies.

“Women’s sports is good business,” 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.”

Tanenbaum said the team will play some games in Vancouver and Montreal. As far as the name of the team, he said that they would take their time and seek public input.

“Our Toronto sports franchises are thriving, but we have been missing one critical piece — women’s professional sports. The world is finally taking notice of something that’s been there all along — the immense talent, passion and competition in women’s sports.”

Larry Tanenbaum, whose Kilmer Sports Ventures will own the new WNBA team in Toronto

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

Engelbert said WNBA exhibition games in Canada the past 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, they so admire her,” Engelbert said.

Nurse is one of a handful of Canadian players playing in the WNBA with more 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. Sources confirmed to ESPN earlier this month that groups are in talks to revive a bid for a new team in Portland, which would bring the WNBA to 15 teams.

“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.”

Other cities previously mentioned by Engelbert for possible expansion were Philadelphia, Denver and Nashville as well as the South Florida region.

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