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As WNBA expansion push grows louder, Bay Area bidders keep quiet

As WNBA expansion push grows louder, Bay Area bidders keep quiet

The race for a WNBA expansion team seems to be heating up.

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has stoked fires by saying the league will have news to announce later this season, and she’s made several public visits to potential expansion cities — including to Denver earlier this month.

One place she hasn’t visited publicly is the Bay Area.

But sources tell this news organization that the WNBA has made a site visit to San Francisco and the Golden State Warriors’ Chase Center within the past year.

The leaders of Oakland’s competing bid — the African-American Sport and Entertainment Group (AASEG) and Everest Talent Management — declined to say whether the WNBA has visited that city. Everest, which recently joined the Oakland bid, is an agency that helps former athletes transition into post-playing careers.

The lack of clarity on visits is one of many reasons why the WNBA’s expansion process has left many confused. A bigger reason has been Engelbert’s conflicting comments — her list of cities under consideration has fluctuated between 100, 20 and 10 and has been similarly opaque about the timing of expansion. But she seemingly created a firm timeline of “later this season” at the WNBA All-Star Game last month, and she has made it clear in other remarks that the league is looking to add two teams.

Engelbert has also said she wants to have at least 18 months between the announcement and the new teams’ first games, both for the teams’ sake and to allow the 12 existing clubs a full offseason to shape their rosters ahead of an expansion draft.

That makes the public visits she has made all the more noteworthy, starting in Portland in February and now in Denver. The WNBA also hosted a sold-out preseason game in May in Toronto, a city Engelbert has praised on several occasions.

Where does the Bay Area fit in? Engelbert previously said that it “doesn’t seem right” that the Bay is without a WNBA team. But the lack of a public visit and the market’s two competing bids leave things mysterious as the expansion clock ticks down.

The WNBA did not respond to numerous requests for comments.

The Warriors, like the Oakland bidders, declined to comment for this story, but reiterated prior statements about a potential WNBA expansion team: Their interest in a team remains high, if the buy-in price and timing are right.

Warriors owner Joe Lacob told this news organization in July that he believes San Francisco “would be a phenomenal place” for a WNBA team. But the team seemingly hasn’t communicated with its own city’s government about the WNBA.

San Francisco mayor London Breed said at a US women’s soccer watch party last month that she hasn’t been in touch with the WNBA or the Warriors on bringing a team to the city.

“There have been some conversations,” she said, “not necessarily directly with the Warriors but with other people who are looking at acquiring a women’s team here in the Bay Area.”

Breed later added that the group she’d spoken with – AASEG – “decided to focus on Oakland.”

The Warriors could certainly get a WNBA expansion franchise without the mayor’s office being involved. After all, they already have a world-class arena, and the NBA owns around 42% of the WNBA.

But it would surely help the Warriors to have Breed’s office helping make the push — especially given that the mostly white Warriors ownership group is competing for a team in a majority Black league with a majority Black women-led bid across the Bay in Oakland.

The AASEG has been plenty busy this summer at the Coliseum location since announcing in February that it was buying the city’s half of the complex. Since then, the A’s have announced plans to move to Las Vegas, throwing the other half of the Coliseum’s ownership into flux and pushing AASEG to team with the Oakland Roots and Soul to seek a temporary soccer stadium on the complex.

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AASEG has only made one public statement since April.

The silence from both Bay Area bidders comes while other cities across the continent make noisy pushes and the WNBA seemingly draws closer to its first expansion since 2008.

Add it all up and it could leave Bay Area fans to face the reality of missing out on this round of expansion, after seemingly being a top option earlier in the process.