The WNBA arrives in Toronto in seduction mode, with both feet on the brakes

Never before has women’s basketball been so popular.

The final of the American College Championships, March Madness, drew its climax with 12 million spectators in the United States. Ride the crest of this wave, replay From the WNBA record nearly 600,000 spectators.

But among the dozens upon dozens of talented players graduating from the collegiate ranks each year, there will only be a handful who will make it through to coaching one of the rare teams in the oldest professional women’s league, the Women’s National Basketball Association. , was launched in 1997.

there w It has since become the hardest professional league to get into. With 12 players per team, there are only 144 players each year who can claim to be part of the best women’s basketball league in the world. It is not uncommon for a player recruited in the first round a month ago to be released even before he takes part in an official match, because places are very limited.

The two finalists of the last American College Championships, Caitlin Clark (left) and Angel Reese (right) will not jump into the WNBA this year and will remain in the NCAA, which is unthinkable today on the male side. .

Photo: Getty Images/Maddie Meyer

About a day ago, Commissioner Kathy Engelbert announced that the NBA wanted to add two more teams in the next few years, providing little solace for those who had just parted ways with one of the other camps that opened. with the month of May.

Two other teams isn’t much when you consider the 30 teams in the NBA (which has 15 players per team, plus their own development team in the G-League, which the WNBA obviously doesn’t have), but a breath of fresh air was necessary in the context of relationships. Tensions between players and league management.

In June, the commissioner said the league had reduced its list of expansion target cities to 10 or 12, and the next month it was targeting 2025 for expansion, or even 2024!

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Toronto was on that shortlist and for many it was a favorite along with San Francisco.


Twelve years after the league went from 16 to 12 teams, the WNBA was once again trying to spread its wings and Canada had an excellent opportunity to be in the game.

Once the season was over, however, Cathy Engelbert’s rhetoric began to change. The longer the commissioner lags, the wider the expansion period.

Last February, Engelbert admitted that expansion is now planned Within two to four years That is, from 2025 to 2027, and at the beginning of the month it announced that it had reduced the list of cities nominated for it to 20 cities.

You read correctly, the list has been whittled down in one year from 12 to 20 cities.

There is no doubt that the league hesitates to increase the number of players per team.

The WNBA is in decline as the rest of the women’s professional sports world hits the accelerator.

Players get a medal.

The NWSL Final drew more viewers than the previous year’s WNBA Final with 915,000 viewers.

Photo: Reuters/Amber Searls

Just this week, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) announced that it is doubling down on its expansion process. Two more teams in 2024, then two more by 2026. 16 teams. And there is no need for me to explain to you that the football team has more players. Each team represents 26 new professional athletes.

The NWSL will provide 100 more opportunities to make a living from your sport. In Canada during the same period, Project 8 proposes to create an 8-team soccer league in 2025.

If you are a talented young athlete, whether it be with the ball, not the ball in your hand, if you want to maximize your chances of a professional career.

Until recently, the WNBA could boast of offering the best salaries in women’s sports. This is still true at the average salary level, since there are fewer players in each formation, but the NWSL salary block and even the PHF salaries have caught up with their big sister.

In 2013, when the NWSL launched, teams operated with a maximum salary budget of $200,000 for female players. At the same time, the WNBA amount was $900,000.

In 10 years, the value of the NWSL has increased sevenfold to $1,375,000 while the WNBA is $1,420,500 for the next season. PHF teams, of which the Montreal Force is a part, will be able to offer up to $1,500,000 to their players next season… without counting on several of the world’s best players working on their league draft professionally with the PWHPA.

Thanks to treading water, the WNBA is no longer the happy exception for women’s sports.

By displaying a wait-and-see attitude, not only has the league lost its lead, it appears to not know how (or want to) take advantage of the massive paradigm shift we’re seeing in women’s sports, up north. America and Europe for growth.

The WNBA suffers from being a pioneer…and from its complex relationship with the NBA, its creator in 1996 and major financier since, but also limiting its potential for growth.

Let’s be clear, without the NBA — which still owns half of the WNBA, while the other half is owned collectively by the league’s 12 franchises — there is no W but the NBA retains its female counterpart in Vice: Summer.

Adam Silver

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver

Photo: Getty Images/Takashi Aoyama

The WNBA plays from mid-May through the end of September. His season begins with a whisper during the NBA playoffs, when interest in men’s basketball is at its peak, and ends just before fall camps, with no attention paid, for half as many games (40 vs. 82).

Although the WNBA Finals were broadcast by ABC and ESPN in the United States last year, the average viewership was 550,000. That’s 20 times less than this year’s March Madness women’s final, as we showed above. There is a huge, fanatical audience for women’s basketball that the WNBA just can’t reach. (On the men’s side, the disparity is almost non-existent between the two: 19.5 million listeners average for the 10-year NCAA Finals compared to 16.5 million for the NBA.)

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Another example of how the NBA is constraining the growth of the WNBA: Active male players, who are now amassing personal futures in the stratosphere — 60 players have earned $20 million or more this season — and many of them have a particular affinity for women’s sports, can now invest in W teams, but Only if the team owner is not associated with an NBA team and is based on Maximum 4% of the endurance value.

And as it navigates its potential expansion, the WNBA will make duplication nearly impossible starting next year.

Players who spend the other eight months of their year in Europe or Australia, where they sometimes earn significantly more than a summer in the US (as the case of Brittney Grinier sadly showed), are required to report to WNBA camp starting May 1, even if their season isn’t over, Otherwise, they will not be able to play for the season. A precarious situation that could backfire on the league if salaries don’t rise quickly to make up for the loss of expected earnings for athletes.

So when does the WNBA expand into Canada? As soon as possible, we hope. And not just in Toronto, why not in Montreal and Vancouver too. And elsewhere in the United States, too. two teams? I say ten. It is definitely not the talent she lacks. And why not play in the fall too, during the months when men’s season is struggling to wake up. Final in December. 60 matches.

Come on, a little courage, fear is a bad advisor.

They deserve more, they deserve better.

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