Could a WNBA team land in Austin? Commissioner says city is among "20 or so" on expansion list

The WNBA will look to add two more teams in the future.

Could a WNBA team land in Austin? Commissioner says city is among "20 or so" on expansion list

Austin could soon host a Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) team. According to the commissioner of the league, it's on the shortlist of expansion candidates.

Cathy Engelbert, the commissioner of the WNBA, confirmed in a forum held on May 5, with the Sports Business Journal that she would like the league to add two new teams within the next few months.

She did not give a timeline for when these teams would be announced. However, she stated that they have narrowed down a list from 100 potential cities to "20 or so", based on things such as demographics and corporate sponsorships.

She also mentioned fast-growing cities such as Denver and Nashville, and markets like the Bay Area and Toronto, which have been considered to be the frontrunners in terms of expansion. She confirmed that they have already visited Portland and the league played a preseason sold-out game in Toronto. In the near future, more visits will be made.

Engelbert stated that these are only the cities who have expressed interest. "We are not far along with any of them, but I'm confident that we will get there. And, I've never been afraid to say that we want to transform our business and economic model to give both existing and new owners a better chance at long-term success."

It's not clear who is pushing for a WNBA team in Austin. Oak View Group LLC, the developer and operator the Moody Center and the Austin Sports Commission have all released statements saying that they had not spoken to the WNBA regarding a franchise.

Kate Alexander, Watson's policy advisor, wrote in an email Austin's Mayor has not been contacted by WNBA, but she "believes that it would be a good fit for Austin." Jeff Nickler is the senior vice president at Oak View Group. He expressed excitement over the possibility that Austin could land a WNBA franchise. However, he added, "There are no plans for a WNBA, or any permanent tenant of professional sports, to be hosted at Moody Center in future."

Michael Dell, the billionaire founder of Round Rock's Dell Technologies Inc. Last year, the couple was among a group of diverse owners who donated 75 million dollars to the WNBA in order to grow the league. They also own a minority stake of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs.

A representative from the Dells refused to comment on whether the company is involved in bringing a WNBA franchise to Austin. Instead, he referred to a public statement made last year when the league learned of the donation.

Michael Dell stated that he and Susan were excited by the potential growth in women's sport, and more specifically the WNBA. Michael Dell said: 'We are also proud to support a League that is committed empowerment. We look forward to helping Cathy, as well as all the accomplished women in the WNBA make a positive contribution to the world.

A WNBA representative did not respond immediately to a comment request.

The perfect time to expand

Now is the right time to expand the WNBA. In its first 20 years, the league was unable to grow in terms of revenue and had to rely on NBA franchises for ownership. The league has a total of 12 teams now, down from 16 at its peak, and 18 franchises have been added. Bloomberg estimates that the league will bring in between $200 and $180 million this year.

Women's sports are gaining popularity. Many believe that name, likeness and image are bridging revenue gaps between male and female student athletes. The NCAA women's championship in April attracted 9,9 million viewers. National Women's Soccer League has set attendance records, and its championship game is broadcast on prime time network television. It is also expanding rapidly. The Women's World Cup will be held later this year. The U.S. women’s soccer team, which is among the best in the world, if not better, has a long-earned reputation for advocating women’s sports.

The WNBA wants to continue this momentum. SBJ reports that this season, for the first time in 1999, ABC will broadcast games during primetime. A recent independent valuation of the Seattle Storm revealed that the franchise was worth $151,000,000, the highest value in the history of the league.

Engelbert, who was previously CEO of global consulting giant Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd. is charged with building this momentum. The Dells were among the first to invest, along with other major donors, including Secretary of State Condoleezza rice, former WNBA players Swin Cash and Inc., and future NFL Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady.

"This wasn't about raising financial capital, but about building human capacity." "There's no question that we were understaffed and under-scaled. So, now, in the forum, Engelbert stated that we are building a team of marketing experts, engineers, people who understand how to grow businesses. "We are trying to make the WNBA a legitimate, sports, entertainment, and media property. It's not being recognized for what it is. It's a deployment of three to five years: marketing, advertising, and more marketing.

Next media rights contracts could bring in the next cash influx. According to SBJ, The Walt Disney Co., (ESPN), pays $25 million per year for WNBA matches, which accounts for two-thirds the media rights revenue under an agreement that lasts until 2025. Disney pays $1.4 billion for NBA games. ION, CBS Sports Network, Paramount+, CBS and CBS Sports Network are other media partners. NBA TV, owned by the league, also broadcasts games.

"Most sporting properties get, say, twice as much as they used to before. This would be the minimum, because I believe our value had been undervalued. "I would say that we will want to be aggressive in what we believe we deserve," said she. "But we have to provide the metrics." We have to deliver quantitative metrics. We have the qualitative metrics. But we need to deliver them in a rapidly changing media landscape.

The question is, how much would the expansion fee be for a brand new team? She stated that they will look at the Storm valuation as well as other women's teams like the NWSL in order to gather more data. The expansion fees paid by the two new teams, Boston and Bay Area, in that league are reportedly $50 million.

She said, "We may not get the Forbes formal valuations like the men do but we have a good trajectory of rising values." "I am really proud and pleased with what our teams put together, their investment, and the way they are viewed as growth property."

Austin is a good match for you?

Austin is a city that would be able to continue its involvement in the professional sports industry.

Austin FC's first two seasons and more in Major League Soccer have been a resounding success. With a boisterous crowd, a long waitlist for season tickets, and a strong regular-season finish, Austin FC was a resounding success. Las Vegas and other cities have used the WNBA as a way to break into top revenue producing leagues. The Aces moved from San Antonio last year, and won the WNBA Championship. The Aces were the first team from the National Hockey League to arrive in the market. Later, the Raiders and the NFL joined the Aces and the Oakland Athletics.

Austin's professional sporting scene is dominated by the Austin Spurs of the Spurs G-League and the Texas Stars from the Dallas Stars American Hockey League, which plays in Cedar Park. Round Rock Express is the Triple-A team of the Texas Rangers. The Austin Gamblers, a Professional Bull Riding Team Series team, are also a Dell investment.

JJ Gottsch is the CEO of The Gamblers and the former Chief Operating Officer of Ryan Sanders Sports and Entertainment which owns the Express. He said that it has "been fascinating" to launch two sports teams two decades apart, because things have changed.

He said that the city and the market have changed dramatically from when we launched Round Rock Express in 2002, to the time we launched us Gamblers in 2022. He cited the demographics of the area and the corporations. It's a completely different market. It's much easier for sports teams to get involved. "It's a chance for those who just moved to the area in the past 5-10 years, and they can join a team that will be theirs from the beginning."

He said that Austin could support more sports, comparing it to Southern California due to its climate, lifestyle, and demographics.

He said, "It is a very lively community. There's always something happening. Twenty to twenty-five years ago, there were gaps in the calendar that you could host events or games."

He has admitted that it was a challenge, at least for the Gamblers. It's a challenge because not many people grew up in a ranch environment or riding horses. They have tried to overcome this by bringing in good players, and by holding their meets at the Moody Center.

He said, "We built a strong team and a franchise that has a good foundation for future success."

He said that they are trying to follow the same strategy as Formula One. The league gained popularity after its Netflix show "Drive to Survive" and will be launching a Prime Video series called "The Ride" later this month.

Gottsch explained that the public will now be able to observe the athletes in their natural habitat, with their helmets off, and at their homes, ranches, and learn more about them.

He said Austin could "absolutely support" additional professional teams.