First appeared in BOXSCORE
By Aron Solomon
Yesterday’s WNBA debut in Toronto was successful and viewed as a test case for the Toronto market as the WNBA continues to consider expansion. The Saturday game was the first-ever WNBA game in Canada and was widely viewed as an overwhelming success, with the Chicago Sky beating the Minnesota Lynx playing to a crowd approaching 20,000 people, with the tickets having sold fast, according to the CBC.
The game proved that Toronto can be a great market for the WNBA, and there is potential for a franchise expansion if the proper investments are made. The success of the Raptors and the excitement around basketball in Canada also bodes well for the future of the WNBA in Toronto.
Or does it?
Toronto excels at FOMO. As a former resident, I know that Toronto is a city that sees itself as world class yet almost always seems to fall short on the follow-up steps necessary to make that happen.
I recently wrote about how badly the WNBA’s business model has been broken and seriously doubt that an expansion move to Toronto will do anything tangible to fix it. I’ll also add that anyone who thinks a Toronto WNBA franchise would play to an even close to full house on most nights is delusional. Toronto is a city where people run from one shiny thing to the next, quicker than you can say “shiny thing.”
Sellout crowd for the @WNBA's first-ever game in Canada 🔥 #ThatsaW— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 13, 2023
(via @James_M_Kay) pic.twitter.com/r3VBhoAmm8
But Toronto can prove me wrong and force the WNBA’s hand by putting together an impressive drive to get people to pre-commit to season tickets. The team certainly has the machine behind it to make this happen and show the league that Toronto should be viewed as more than just a potentially viable city for a WNBA expansion franchise
The WNBA has a shortlist of 10 to 12 cities that it has identified as candidates for an expansion franchise that could begin play as soon as the 2024 season. Personally, I would be surprised if before last night, Toronto was firmly ensconced in the top 5.
Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), the group that owns the Raptors, has reportedly done its due diligence to bring an expansion franchise to Toronto, and the group headline an effort to bring the WNBA to Toronto. They reportedly have the required available capital needed to pay the expansion fee and maintain the team in the city. The WNBA aims to identify one or two cities for expansion this year – if the league can actually get out of its own way and get expansion done.
If MLSE can show the league that there is serious season interest coming off Saturday’s strong wave, they could make it very easy for the WNBA to make an early franchise announcement, assuming the MLSE ownership group has done the kind of excellent and professional work to date that they have done in other sports.
The league is actually good at dealing with season ticket holders once they have them. WNBA teams use various strategies to attract and keep season ticket holders. They offer benefits like VIP events, preseason games, guaranteed seat locations, priority purchase options for playoffs, online ticket management programs, loyalty cards, exclusive offers for other events, early entry into the arena, and more.
Teams can also arrange monthly meetups for season ticket holders, and provide special deals for non-basketball events. Some season ticket holders have been loyal to their teams since the league’s inception, valuing the close-knit community of WNBA season ticket holders.
But – and it’s a big but – it’s not easy taking a new fan from a singular great experience to become a season ticket holder.
“A season ticket is a binding contract between the fam and the team. For a fan who is new to a sport, especially in a city seeking an expansion franchise, there is often sticker shock when the fan sees the commitment needed to hold a season ticket,” observes Rich DiTomaso, a Philadelphia lawyer.
Luckily, this is the WNBA, with a short-ish season and, well, the baggage and benefits of being a women’s professional sport. The average single-game ticket price for a WNBA game is around $17 to $18 per ticket, while the average ticket price for an NBA game is around $51 to $90 per ticket, making a WNBA season ticket affordable for people who simply couldn’t consider an NBA season ticket (or maybe even be able to get one if they could afford it).
This weekend, Toronto was a massive success story for the league and for women’s professional basketball. Viewed in its most positive light, it shows that the WNBA specifically and women’s professional sports in general is in a very good place right now.
But momentum is fleeting and fear of missing out quickly becomes collective amnesia about what we were so excited about in the first place.
The burden is now firmly on the WNBA and the potential Toronto franchise ownership group to get it done, the sooner the better.
About Aron Solomon
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and the Editor-in-Chief for Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, YouTube, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.