Cathy Engelbert: WNBA Could Pursue Expansion with 'Successful' 2021 Season

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVApril 13, 2021

PALMETTO, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 04: WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert looks on prior to Game 2 of the WNBA Finals between the Las Vegas Aces and the Seattle Storm at Feld Entertainment Center on October 02, 2020 in Palmetto, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert says expansion is a possibility as the league prepares for its 25th season.

"If we have a successful season this year, we can certainly start talking about expansion and what that would look like," Engelbert told reporters Tuesday.

The WNBA has 12 teams across the United States, and the Atlanta Dream are the most recent addition, coming aboard in 2008. The league peaked at 16 teams from 2000 to 2002 but has remained at 12 since 2010.

Adopting a conservative approach to expansion made sense because moving too rapidly could lead to massive financial consequences. Over its history, the WNBA has seen the Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers, Houston Comets, Miami Sol, Portland Fire and Sacramento Monarchs fold.

However, many would argue the time has come for the WNBA to grow. The league signed a new collective bargaining agreement with the players in January 2020, and interest in women's sports is continuing to build momentum.

Having more teams would add to the WNBA's overhead costs but also provide more revenue from expansion fees and likely increased media rights.

Expansion could also allow the league to reach a wider number of fans. For large swaths of the country, regularly attending WNBA games is out of the question because the nearest franchise is hours away.

With only 144 roster spots, breaking into the league is difficult, and Megan Gustafson was a prime example of how that could hinder the WNBA's potential.

Gustafson built a big following during her college career at Iowa, and Hawkeyes fans were likely eager to see what she'd do at the next level. The Dallas Wings selected the 6'3" forward in the second round of the 2019 draft but cut her prior to the season.

While the Wings subsequently re-signed Gustafson, she has logged 286 minutes over two years. A larger roster pool would allow fringe players such as Gustafson to have bigger roles.

Fans who followed those players in college might become more interested in the WNBA.

It's unclear what qualifies as "a successful season" in Engelbert's view, and expansion takes years to play out even after it's finalized.

But her comments will inspire optimism among followers eager to see the WNBA in new cities.