The WNBA officially announced that Toronto will be home to its next expansion team Thursday, marking the league’s first franchise outside the United States. The new team is set to begin play in 2026, bringing professional women’s basketball to a vibrant international city.

“Growing internationally, I’ve been trying to think through next steps on a global platform,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said, via Doug Feinberg of 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.”

The expansion to Toronto is a significant step for the WNBA, which has seen increasing interest and growth in recent years. Engelbert’s vision of global expansion aims to not only grow the league’s footprint but also to inspire a new generation of basketball fans across borders. The move is expected to bring new opportunities for partnerships and engagement in a market with a strong sports culture.

A historic move for the WNBA

Apr 10, 2023; New York, NY, USA; WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert speaks to the media before the WNBA Draft 2023 at Spring Studio. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
© Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Larry Tanenbaum-led Kilmer Sports Ventures is investing $115 million to bring the WNBA to Toronto. Tanenbaum, who is also the chairman and a minority owner of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, emphasized the importance of women’s professional sports in the city’s already thriving sports scene.

“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.”

The Toronto team will play at the 8,700-seat Coca-Cola Coliseum at Exhibition Place, with the potential to host games at the larger Scotiabank Arena. The commitment to building a practice facility further demonstrates the investment in the team’s success and growth.

The journey to expansion

The decision to expand to Toronto follows successful WNBA exhibition games in Canada over the past two seasons, which showcased the country’s passion for women’s basketball. For instance, a preseason game between the Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx last year drew a sold-out crowd of nearly 20,000 to Scotiabank Arena, while over 16,000 fans attended a preseason game in Edmonton between the Seattle Storm and Los Angeles Sparks.

“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.

The announcement is part of the WNBA’s broader strategy to expand its reach and influence. The league plans to grow to 16 teams by 2028. Philadelphia, Portland, Denver and Nashville are among the cities being considered for future expansion. The San Francisco-based Golden State Valkyries, set to begin play in 2025, will be the WNBA’s 13th team, followed by Toronto in 2026 as the 14th.

The Golden State Valkyries recently revealed their name and logo, generating excitement among fans. The Valkyries, drawing inspiration from Norse mythology and popularized by the Marvel cinematic universe, will feature a strong, bold and fierce brand identity. The team will sport a purple and black color scheme and aims to embody the spirit of warrior women.