Why the WNBA should expand north of the border – Varsity

Last week, Toronto-born recording artist Drake posted on his Instagram story saying that he wanted a WNBA franchise in Toronto. The WNBA has increased in popularity over the past years, and with viewership higher than ever before, expansion is inevitable. The question is, what city will the new team land in? 

Drake and the rest of Canada agree that eyes should be looking north of the border. Toronto’s bid for a WNBA team was launched in 2019 with the intention of landing a team in ‘the 6ix.’ With the popularity of basketball in Canada on the rise, especially after the success of the Raptors in 2019, placing a WNBA team in Toronto and expanding women’s basketball beyond the US is an obvious business move.

Women’s basketball is growing in popularity each year. The WNBA just celebrated its 25th anniversary this year with a record-breaking season. It launched new jerseys for each team, as well as the mid-season Commissioner’s Cup tournament, which had great viewership. 

The WNBA expanding to Toronto would be an amazing opportunity for Canadian athletes by giving them the opportunity to play professionally on home soil. There is a lot of Canadian talent that could be showcased by expanding north — Canada has no shortage of skilled players. The Canadian women’s national team is ranked fourth in the world according to the International Basketball Federation (FIBA). Canada also currently has three players active in the WNBA: Kia Nurse, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury; Natalie Achonwa, who plays for the Minnesota Lynx; and Bridget Carleton, who plays for the Minnesota Lynx. 

There are many more upcoming women stars currently playing at the NCAA level. Plus, bringing a team to Toronto also paves the way for the next generation of women athletes and basketball players, providing them with role models, mentors, and a dream of playing in the league one day.

Although Canada is known for being a hockey-dominant country, a basketball culture quickly arose after the Toronto Raptors success in 2019. With that victory still fresh on the Toronto scene, basketball culture is front and centre. Walking down the streets of downtown, the iconic Raptors hats can still be found on many passers-by. The city came together in 2019 to celebrate ‘Canada’s team,’ and bringing a WNBA team would bring our city together even more, building a culture in the city of Toronto revolving around sport. 

When Nick Nurse, head coach of the Toronto Raptors, was asked to touch on the idea of bringing in a WNBA team, his response was, “I think women should be represented in Toronto with a WNBA team. I would imagine it would be wildly successful.” 

He also touched on the fact that right now is what he calls the “golden age” for basketball in Canada. Bringing a WNBA team to Toronto would mean a lot for the city, and with basketball growing rapidly in Canada, it is the perfect time to introduce a new team. Toronto already has NHL, NBA, MLB, and MLS teams, and bringing a WNBA team would put Toronto on the map as a serious sports community.

The hashtag #WNBAFinals was the number one trending topic on Twitter in Canada during the 2021 WNBA finals game between the Chicago Sky and the Phoenix Mercury. This season’s WNBA opening weekend also saw a 325 per cent increase of viewership in Canada, and the match between the Las Vegas Aces and the Seattle Storm on May 15 became the most viewed WNBA game in Canada’s history. There is clearly interest and a WNBA fan base in Canada — it all comes down to whether or not the WNBA wants to expand past American borders. 

As the WNBA gains more and more popularity each year, Canada is ready to make its mark in women’s professional basketball. The time to bring the team in is now. We have the culture, we have the fan base, and we have an open market for the addition of a new team in the city. Drake needs a team, the WNBA needs a team, and Toronto is the city to expand to.