06 Jan

Plans to bring team to Portland have collapsed, per report

The WNBA’s plans to bring an expansion team to Portland have collapsed, according to The Oregonian, with the league citing planned renovations to the Moda Center as a key issues. Furthermore, there was uncertainty regarding a practice facility for the team, which would have begun play in 2025.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert sent a letter to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden explaining the decision, and noting that the league still hopes to one day bring an expansion team to Portland. Engelbert’s letter, in full:

Dear Senator Wyden

I was able to experience Oregon’s passionate basketball community first-hand at that incredibly enthusiastic gathering of women’s sports advocates that you pulled together last February at The Sports Bra in Portland. It became clear that Portland is an ideal location for a WNBA franchise. Since then, the league and a prospective local ownership group have been working with city and local officials to resolve issues related to the Moda Center.

However, in light of the potential renovation of the Moda Center currently anticipated to take place during consecutive summers, consideration of a WNBA franchise for Portland will be deferred for now until the timing and scope of the arena improvements are settled.

Thanks for the work you and Oregonians have done so far. When the time is right, we look forward to pursuing prospects for bringing the WNBA to Portland.

Per The Oregonian, the Portland Trail Blazers and owner Jody Allen were caught off guard by Engelbert’s letter and had been willing to put off renovations to allow the prospective WNBA franchise to play there for multiple seasons before beginning the work. To that point, the Blazers’ general plan to renovate Moda Center have been known for some time; if it was truly a major sticking point, how did the Blazers and Portland get this far down the line in the first place?

Portland entrepreneur Kirk Brown was leading the push to bring a team to the city but did not respond to requests for comment from The Oregonian. His current and potential future involvement is not known at this time. Early in October multiple reports suggested that a new team coming to Portland was “close to a done deal.” Wyden’s office issued a statement saying that he was “confident the scoreboard will end up with Portland winning that franchise.”

Whether the two parties could eventually get negotiations back on track for the team, which will have an expansion fee of $50 million, remains to be seen. If not, the league will have to reopen their search.

On Oct. 5, the WNBA officially announced that an expansion team had been awarded to the Bay Area and will begin play in 2025. The yet-unnamed team, which will be owned by the Golden State Warriors and play in the Chase Center in San Francisco, will be the first new team to enter the league since the Atlanta Dream in 2008.

The expectation has always been that the league will add a second expansion team in the near future to give the league 14 teams starting in 2025, and Engelbert acknowledged as much before Game 1 of the 2023 WNBA Finals.

“The goal is to add a second one, or 14th team, by 2025,” Engelbert said. “Not more for before ’25 but obviously longer term. I’ve said my goal is to get this league you know additional teams and additional cities that we think would be great. We have a lot of cities interested, which is why we didn’t announce the 14th team yet.”

Later in her answer, Engelbert mentioned Denver, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Nashville and Portland. The latter appears to be out of the mix, as does Toronto, which had previously been thought to be a favorite. There figures to still be some interest from those other cities, though the league will not be thrilled about restarting the process.

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