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BEYOND LOCAL: WNBA franchise awarded to Toronto's Kilmer Group for 2026 season

The reported deal would have Toronto's WNBA team start playing in May 2026
Several media reports say the WNBA is officially coming to Toronto. The Chicago Sky take on the Minnesota Lynx in WNBA pre-season basketball action in Toronto on Saturday May 13, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — Several media reports say the WNBA is officially coming to Toronto.

The CBC was the first to report that the women's professional basketball league has awarded a franchise to the Kilmer Group, which has a 25 per cent stake in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the owner of the NBA's Toronto Raptors and NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs, among other sports properties.

The reported deal would have Toronto's WNBA team start playing in May 2026.

The WNBA did not confirm the report.

“We continue to engage in productive conversations with interested ownership groups in a number of markets and the granting of any expansion teams requires a vote of the WNBA and NBA Board of Governors," the league said.

Larry Tanenbaum is the chairman and CEO of Kilmer Group and the chairman of the board for MLSE. He is a part owner of MLSE through Kilmer's holdings.

A spokeswoman for Kilmer Group told The Canadian Press that they have no updates at this time.

Mayor Olivia Chow said in a television interview on Friday that she was aware there was movement on Toronto getting a women's basketball team.

"Wait for it. Hopefully, there will be something later on," said Chow in an interview with local news channel CP24. "Basketball, it's just great and having role models, it's time.

"Hopefully, there will be good news soon and I can't wait for that to happen."

Although media reports in early March maintained that Toronto would have a team for the 2025 season, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that expansion for that year had ended with a San Francisco-area team.

Engelbert said on March 7 that she was reluctant to give specific details on a potential Toronto franchise until it was locked in.

"No specific timeline, because as soon as I give a timeline and things obviously change, it becomes kind of yesterday's news," said Engelbert. "I've always said I think about 18 months out is when you need to essentially finalize things because you have to start working on a brand, Nike has to start to produce uniforms, things like that."

Canada has hosted two sold-out WNBA pre-season games in the past two years. Toronto's Scotiabank Arena was at capacity to see the Chicago Sky defeat the Minnesota Lynx 82-74 in 2023. Edmonton's Rogers Place was also filled as the Los Angeles Sparks beat the Seattle Storm 84-79 on Saturday.

The league announced on Thursday that it would have charter flights starting this season, a move that would also help in expanding to Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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