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Toronto Awarded WNBA’s First Franchise Outside US, with Expansion Team Set to Begin Play in 2026

Toronto has been awarded the WNBA’s first franchise outside the United States, with the expansion team set to begin play in 2026.

Larry Tanenbaum-led Kilmer Sports Ventures is paying $50 million for the team. Tanenbaum also is the chairman and a minority owner of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the Toronto sports giant that also owns the NHL’s Maple Leafs and NBA’s Raptors along with Toronto’s MLS and Canadian Football League franchises.

“Growing internationally, I’ve been trying to think through next steps on a global platform,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told The Associated Press ahead of the official announcement Thursday morning. “It helps us reach new audiences and bring in new partners. The thing I love about going to another country is that the young girls and boys get to see professional basketball for women is important, too.”

Toronto will be the WNBA’s 14th franchise, with the expansion Golden State Valkyries set to start play next year.

“Our Toronto sports franchises are thriving but, we have been missing one critical piece — women’s professional sports,” Tanenbaum told the AP. “The world is finally taking notice of something that’s been there all along — the immense talent, passion and competition in women’s sports. So, once again, I saw an opportunity and knew we were in the right place at the right time to bring Canada’s first WNBA team to Toronto. And now we have, making sports history.”

FILE -Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Raptors, arrives for the annual meeting of the NBA’s Board of Governors in New York, Thursday, April 18, 2013. The WNBA is expanding north with Toronto gaining a franchise that will begin play in 2026. The team will be owned by Larry Tanenbaum, who is also the chairman and a minority owner of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, which owns several Toronto sports franchises, including the Raptors and Maple Leafs. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Toronto will play at 8,700-seat Coca-Cola Coliseum at Exhibition Place and will have the ability to move up to the Scotiabank Arena on occasion. Opened in 1921, Coca-Cola Coliseum also is the home of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies.

“Women’s sports is good business,” Tanenbaum said. “Just look around — it’s not a moment, but a movement and it’s just the beginning. The investment that we’ll put into the franchise will also be no different than the other franchises.”

Tanenbaum said that the team also will play some games in Vancouver and Montreal. As far as the name of the team, he said that they’d take their time and “solicit public input.”

Kilmer Sports Ventures, created as a stand-alone company to operate the team, has committed to building a practice facility, but until that is ready, it will train at University of Toronto’s Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport.

Engelbert said WNBA exhibition games in Canada the last two seasons showed the passion of the fans in the country for women’s basketball.

“When I was up for the preseason game, Kia (Nurse) and I did a youth clinic. The reaction from young girls to Kia and what she stands for, they so admire her,” Engelbert said.

Nurse is one of a handful of Canadian players playing in the WNBA with more on the way.

“No doubt it’s helpful to have household names,” Engelbert said.

The commissioner expects the league to get to 16 teams by 2028.

“We’ve already had a lot of interest and it got more tangible and serious from a fair amount of cities after the draft,” Engelbert said. “We are in a good position to get to 16 by certainly ’27-28.”

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By DOUG FEINBERG AP Basketball Writer

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