WNBA’s Bay Area expansion team to debut in ’25

The Golden State Warriors have been one of the most successful NBA franchises over the past decade. They want to do the same in the WNBA, which announced Thursday morning that it had approved the organization as an expansion franchise starting in the 2025 season.

“We’re coming in here, number one, to win,” Warriors chairman Joe Lacob told ESPN. “Number two, we want to see this league and women’s basketball grow, and we hope to be a big part of it.

“We think it’s a watershed event for us to come in and commit to it in a big way. We’re going to bring all of our resources. We can put this machine to work and we’re going to do that.”

The Warriors ranked first in Forbes’ most recent NBA valuations at $7 billion, largely due to the enormous success of the Chase Center, a state-of-the-art, privately financed arena that opened in 2019, and corporate sponsorships.

Lacob said he intends to put the full force of the Warriors’ business structure behind the new WNBA franchise.

“I believe we’ll have the No. 1 revenue of any WNBA team,” he said. “And I think we can do very, very well as a business because we know how to do this. We have all the facilities, and we can bring sponsor dollars to the team and ultimately to the league that will help the league in a big way.”

The team will play its games at the Chase Center in San Francisco and train in Oakland, where the Warriors practiced until 2019.

As such, Lacob said, the new franchise is likely to be known as “Golden State” to reflect a fan base across the entire San Francisco Bay Area. However, internal discussions will continue over the next few months on whether it will be called the Warriors or by another name, as well as around uniforms and logos.

This is something of a full-circle moment for Lacob, 67, who began his journey as a sports franchise owner with the American Basketball League in 1996, as the owner of the San Jose Lasers. He also held a minority ownership in the league, which folded in 1998.

Lacob said the failure of the ABL, which initially had superior talent to the WNBA with 11 of the 12 players on the 1996 United States Olympic team, has always been a regret of his.

“We were rocking and rolling, playing during basketball season, which I still believe is the right way to do it,” he said. “We were selling out, doing really well. But we just couldn’t get the TV contract. That was the killer. And I lost personally, I can tell you over $10 million — which was a lot of money at the time.”

The ABL also ran into competition from the WNBA, which began play in 1997 and had the full force of the NBA behind its eight original franchises.

The league expanded to 16 teams by the 2000 season, but several franchises folded or relocated over the next decade, and the league has been cautious about expansion since 2008, when the Atlanta Dream were added.

There have been renewed calls to expand in recent years as the league’s popularity has grown. The WNBA continues to discuss adding a second expansion team, likely Portland, but multiple league sources told ESPN those plans have not been finalized yet.

The San Francisco Bay Area has long been seen as a good choice for expansion because of the strong existing fan base for women’s basketball from Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley, as well as the Sacramento Monarchs, one of the original WNBA teams.

Lacob said he has long been a fan of both the Stanford men’s and women’s basketball teams.

“Both my boys and my girls played basketball,” Lacob said. “And I was very much into Stanford basketball, men’s and women’s. So that was one of the reasons I did the ABL [and the Lasers].

“So this is a big full-circle thing for me. The only reason it took all these years, 25 years or so, is that when I bought the Warriors [in 2010], we had to turn around the team. That was a few years. Then we had a seven-year process to build the arena, which was a massive investment of time and money. And then finally when I was ready to go, the pandemic hit. So years go by, and here we are now.”

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