Toronto awarded WNBA’s first franchise outside U.S., with expansion team set to begin play in 2026

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert addresses the media to praise the dedicated basketball fans in Canada before officially announcing Toronto has been awarded the WNBA's 14th franchise.

Toronto has been awarded the WNBA’s first franchise outside the United States, with the expansion team set to begin play in 2026.

Larry Tanenbaum-led Kilmer Sports Ventures is paying $50 million for the team. Tanenbaum also is the chairman and a minority owner of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the Toronto sports giant that also owns the NHL’s Maple Leafs and NBA’s Raptors, along with Toronto’s MLS and Canadian Football League franchises.

“Growing internationally, I’ve been trying to think through next steps on a global platform,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told The Associated Press ahead of the official announcement Thursday morning. “It helps us reach new audiences and bring in new partners. The thing I love about going to another country is that the young girls and boys get to see professional basketball for women is important, too.”

Toronto will be the WNBA’s 14th franchise, with the expansion Golden State Valkyries set to start play next year.

“Our Toronto sports franchises are thriving but, we have been missing one critical piece — women’s professional sports,” Tanenbaum told the AP. “The world is finally taking notice of something that’s been there all along — the immense talent, passion and competition in women’s sports. So, once again, I saw an opportunity and knew we were in the right place at the right time to bring Canada’s first WNBA team to Toronto. And now we have, making sports history.”

[brightcove videoID=6353518275112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Teresa Resch will be the team’s president, Tanenbaum confirmed at the media conference announcement Thursday.

Resch had worked as the Raptors’ vice-president of basketball operations and player development since 2013 and was part of the team’s front office during their championship run in 2019.

She left the job in March and Sportsnet’s Michael Grange reported that Resch was expected to stay in Toronto after her departure.

Resch was with the NBA head office for five years before joining the Raptors. She said at the media conference that team colours and nickname will have a fan-sourced element to it, which likely would be voting.

[brightcove videoID=6353519824112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

“This franchise will be Canada’s team,” Tanenbaum said during Thursday’s official announcement.

Toronto will play at 8,700-seat Coca-Cola Coliseum at Exhibition Place and will have the ability to move up to the Scotiabank Arena on occasion. Opened in 1921, Coca-Cola Coliseum also is the home of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies.

“Women’s sports is good business,” Tanenbaum said. “Just look around — it’s not a moment, but a movement, and it’s just the beginning. The investment that we’ll put into the franchise will also be no different than the other franchises.”

Tanenbaum said that the team also will play games in Vancouver and Montreal. As far as the name of the team, he said that they’d take their time and “solicit public input.”

Kilmer Sports Ventures, created as a stand-alone company to operate the team, has committed to building a practice facility, but until that is ready, it will train at University of Toronto’s Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport.

Canada has hosted sold-out WNBA pre-season games at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena in 2023 and Edmonton’s Rogers Place on May 4.

Engelbert said those games showed the passion of the fans in the country for women’s basketball.

[brightcove videoID=6353518464112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

“When I was up for the pre-season game, Kia (Nurse) and I did a youth clinic. The reaction from young girls to Kia and what she stands for, they so admire her,” Engelbert said.

Nurse is one of a handful of Canadian players playing in the WNBA with more on the way.

“No doubt it’s helpful to have household names,” Engelbert said.

The commissioner expects the league to get to 16 teams by 2028.

“We’ve already had a lot of interest, and it got more tangible and serious from a fair amount of cities after the draft,” Engelbert said. “We are in a good position to get to 16 by certainly ’27-28.”

–with files from Sportsnet staff, the Canadian Press

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.