The WNBA will make more history on May 13 when the Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx meet at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto for the first-ever preseason game in Canada, the league announced Wednesday.
"Bringing a WNBA preseason game to Canada is an important milestone for the global growth of the league," WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a press release. "I've spoken often of the global popularity of women's basketball and, this past season, WNBA games were broadcast in 207 countries and territories, including in Canada, where fans have shown a great appetite for WNBA action."
There are currently three Canadian players in the league: Natalie Achonwa, Bridget Carleton and Kia Nurse. Both Achonwa and Carleton (assuming she re-signs in restricted free agency) play for the Lynx, which is why they were chosen to participate in the game.
This will be just the third time that a WNBA game has been played outside of the United States. In 2004, the Detroit Shock met the San Antonio Silver Stars in a preseason game in Mexico, and in 2011 the Atlanta Dream faced Great Britain's women's basketball team in England.
While the earlier games were special one-off events, May's contest was designed with an eye on the future.in the coming years, and Toronto is one of the cities in the running. During a media call on Wednesday, Engelbert acknowledged that the preseason game will be something of a test run for the viability of a franchise in Toronto.
"This is a way to assess the popularity of the sport in Canada," Engelbert said. "We're certainly excited to see how the market responds and certainly the fans in the country from a viewership perspective as well."
New Media Sports & Entertainment chairman Max Abrahams is leading the push to bring an expansion team to Toronto, and told The Athletic in an interview in June 2022 that the price will be in the $15-20 million range. Furthermore, Abrahams said the league has "given the checkmark" to the group's infrastructure plans.
Per The Athletic, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), the group that owns the Raptors, has also looked into the possibility of owning an expansion team. To that point, it's worth noting that Raptors president Masai Ujiri brought up the WNBA unprompted in an interview of May 2022.
"The game is going global and I am really interested in the BAL [Basketball African League] in Africa. The WNBA. There are many things that intrigue us here,". "I know that I think we will continue to talk about how do we get this franchise even bigger in how we think.
WNBA expansion is going to happen, the question now is where? The Bay Area, Philadelphia and Nashville are some of the other places in the mix, but it's notable that the league is bringing a preseason game to Toronto rather than any of those other locations.
"We've seen record WNBA viewership over the last two seasons in Canada," Engelbert said during her media call on Wednesday. "So we're excited to bring a fan to those fans live. Globalizing the WNBA game has been a key pillar of how we're trying to grow the league and go through our business transformation. Playing a game in Canada is a significant milestone for us. This is just our first step in hosting more events like this.
"We're going to expand at the right time. We've looked at about 100 different cities. I've talked about narrowing that. Toronto is certainly one of the names on the narrowed list. We're just excited to see the passion for the game in Canada."