Ever since its first game in 1997, the WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association) has been a trailblazer.
No, it was not the first example of a women's pro sports league. Golf and tennis have ones that go back to the 1950s and 70s. There was even a baseball league in the 1940s.
But the WNBA felt different. It partnered directly with the NBA, giving it a look and feel that was similar to one of the most popular sports leagues in the world. Since that time, many other women's leagues have borrowed the concept of closely connecting to established men's clubs. Just look at all of the women's soccer leagues in Europe!
Though the league has now survived for 25 years, this connection has not always translated into success. The WNBA still struggles with low attendance and poor TV exposure (having their games shown on sports networks). That is what made a recent event in Toronto so exciting.
On Saturday, May 13, a preseason (season warmup) game between the Minnesota Lynx and the Chicago Sky was held at Scotiabank Arena. The game, which was announced back in January, sold out in mere hours. The crowd of 19,923 was about four times the league's average regular attendance.
NEW: NBA Canada announces that the #WNBA Canada Game was the highest attended preseason game in league history (19,923 fans).
It was the most watched WNBA preseason game and the second-most watched WNBA game in Canada. #WNBACanadaGame pic.twitter.com/0KHTrkB2bA
— Lukas Weese (@Weesesports) May 15, 2023
The game was an enormous success. And it was all enough to get people wondering: Will the WNBA come to Canada?
If the WNBA did come to Canada, it would be riding two rising waves of popularity.
The first of these is basketball in Canada. Since the days of superstar Vince Carter all the way through to their epic championship in 2019, the Toronto Raptors have become one of the most popular sports teams in Canada. Their games are often sold out and fans from across the country watch them obsessively.
The team's success has also inspired a huge interest in playing the sport, showcased by the fact that many of the NBA's hottest talents—including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, RJ Barrett, and Andrew Wiggins—are Canadians. The country is not just about playing hockey!
Women rule the court
The other wave is the rise in women's basketball. During the recent March Madness NCAA college tournament in the United States, the players and teams making the most noise weren't the men's teams. They were the women's.
The championship showdown between a fierce and tenacious LSU Tigers and Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark was watched by 10 million people in the US alone. Clark in particular was inspirational, drawing comparisons to Golden State's Stephen Curry, who is one of the greatest long-range shooters the sport has ever seen.
In the past, college sports stars like her had to give up their careers in sports. But in the WNBA, she will be able to continue entertaining fans for years to come.
Canada seems ready
Here in Canada, the combined rising popularity in basketball and women's sports has really taken hold. Like in the NBA, several of the WNBA's best are Canadian, including Kia Nurse, Natalie Achonwa, and Bridget Carleton. And the league is definitely taking notice:
THANK YOU CANADA 🧡 Over 19,000 in attendance 👏
Y'all really showed up and showed out in our first #WNBA game in Toronto pic.twitter.com/XJtBFku241
— WNBA (@WNBA) May 14, 2023
It has been a long time since the WNBA has considered expansion. The last team to join was the Atlanta Dream in 2008. But it is clear that the game in Toronto has the league looking at a Canadian future very seriously.
Would you like to see a WNBA team playing in Canada? Talk about taking the We The North slogan to a whole new level!