San Francisco – Joe Lacob was on stage. Next to him was co-owner Peter Guber. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Englebert was also there. And a descendant of London, the mayor of San Francisco. and Warriors president Brandon Schneider. Even ESPN’s Malika Andrews flew in to host.
Hall of Famer Sherrill Swoopes was in the front row, as was legendary Stanford coach Tara Vanderver — the seed whose career has grown so much that it sprouted Thursday at the Chase Center. Professional women’s basketball is coming to the Bay Area in 2025.
The WNBA announced that Golden State has landed the goose. This is what the league needs all the time. Lacob waited patiently for Engelbert to give the green light. She then held out until Lacob agreed to pay a $50 million expansion fee.
Now, it’s official. The league’s 13th team is owned by the Warriors and is one of the most attractive franchises in sports. 2,000 season ticket deposits were made in the first five hours.
But hopes are high for this expansion announcement, thanks to a key figure still-to-be-named among the big names in attendance representing the team.
You’ve probably heard of Keats. He was named the Warriors’ chief commercial officer in July. Basically, he’s the leader of the Warriors’ corporate partnerships juggernaut, which brings in more money than any team in America, and at least of any team in the world.
You can’t go anywhere near the Warriors universe and not see the branding of multiple Fortune 500 companies. From Chase to Rakuten, from Google to United, from Accenture to Kaiser. This is what they do – build relationships with top companies that have the capital and credibility to connect with the originals. If the sponsorship world were like a playground, Keats would say, “I’m him!” He was a shouting man.
Okay, this is the part where Kits blushes. Here’s where he says he’s not the only one. It’s the people behind it. While that may be true, Kits is what the WNBA needs. and Amanda Chin, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Chief Promoter Warriors Brand and Presentation. and John Beaven. He is the Chief Revenue Officer who is known as the Ticket Guru and is passionate about the fan experience.
The franchise is paying more than $400 million in player salaries and luxury tax penalties and is still a pillar of the Warriors’ mint, which finances an expansion franchise. This front office has accumulated years of managing dynasties, opening new arenas and leading G League teams. He learned some hard lessons. Now it’s well oiled.
This is what the WNBA is getting, and what it desperately needs: a Warriors machine, especially superstars like Stephen Curry, who have grown to historic levels along with local love and prosperity. Yes, the Warriors have a shiny new platform. They still have their old practice facility in Oakland, which Grandpa gave them a sweet deal so they kept it and used it for basketball camps. But the market and the machine why the league zero on the Golden State. The WNBA probably hasn’t seen it since its inception in 1997 with so many die-hard audiences and the level of knowledge, precision and capital.
The league is growing and still loaded with potential. It’s hard to argue that the Warriors aren’t the ideal partner to take the WNBA to a new level.
“It’s about time,” Lacob said, pausing for emphasis, escalating the drama. “It’s time for a big leap forward for women’s sports in general and women’s basketball in particular.”
Based on conversations with Warriors executives, the process of building their expansion franchise will begin with the selection of a team president to manage the trade group. A WNBA team needs Rick Wells, who handles impossible tasks like Danny Ocean. Among other things, former Warriors president Wells led the Chase Center effort from start to finish. Then he retired, like Michael Jordan did after the hit against Utah.
The president will report to Schneider. A head of basketball operations will be selected next. Expect a similar structure to what the Warriors have now – the basketball side and the business side, with Lacob at the top of the Org chart.
The trick is to balance using the infrastructure established by the Warriors while also giving the WNBA team its own system. Some things remain under one umbrella – GSW Sports, LLC – like finances. Especially in the past, when things were established, the fighters relied on the people in power. But ultimately, they need to find executive playmakers for a WNBA team trained the Golden State way.
The Warriors are talking a big game with as much hope as they do.
“I’m telling you right now, we’re going to win a WNBA championship the first five years of this franchise,” Lacob said.
They believe they will change the way the league does business, create a blueprint for other franchises to follow and turn the WB into a cash cow.
We know they’re looking for stars following the Warriors’ game plan. Stephen Curry and the likes of Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and Andrew Wiggins are the highlights of the Warriors’ rise from a $450 million fix to a $7 billion behemoth. The Golden State likes big shots.
Just throwing this out here: Iowa guard Caitlin Clarke may be one of the most popular players in all of women’s basketball for a fifth year at the school. The Covid-19 exemption provides additional eligibility time for players whose college careers have been affected by the pandemic. So Clark could enter the 2025 WNBA draft — a first for the new Golden State franchise.
Also throwing this in here: Bay Area owner and two-time WNBA All-Star Sabrina Ionescu is under contract for two more seasons.
By the way, how much is Dawn Staley doing in South Carolina again?
No, fighters don’t care about difference. And the bay is used to stars.
“This gives us a great platform for the next generation of players,” Engelbert said. We’ll add 12 roster spots to a league that needs growth, growing in viewership. This gives us a huge media market, where I think our players want to live and work.
WNBA Confidential: An anonymous poll shows more players are looking for roster spots than expansion
The rise in popularity of the WNBA is undeniable. What has always been lacking is capitalizing on that enthusiasm. What is always lacking is the ability to avoid the missteps and mistakes that have hindered their success. What is sorely needed is some operational legitimacy.
Not in court. The league always had a game. If only they were younger, fans of the day could have seen Tina Thompson play live. Ditto for Chamique Holdsclaw, Deanna Nolan and Ticha Penichero. And gamers are better now than ever.
The game has grown. Game style is more fun. The product is doing its part, as seen in this epic WNBA Finals matchup between the Las Vegas Aces and the New York Liberty.
But where the WNBA needs maturity is on the business side. Through fan engagement, merchandising, public relations, media outreach and technology enhancements. As Guber says, telling a compelling story. The star power on the court is number 1. But all of these other areas are critical ingredients to increase revenue — and then increase player compensation, which makes the league more of a destination, which feeds the cycle of producing more stars.
“Technology is driving our economy, and your country’s tech hub doesn’t have a WNBA team. I don’t think that’s right. That’s why I thought this market would be so good. The data confirms it. But also this ownership group, these operators, all benefit from the great success of the Golden State Warriors…”
To Engelbert’s credit, she seems to know what the league needs. Several sources involved in the process said she had tunnel vision for the Warriors. On Thursday, the league said it had spoken with other teams interested in the Bay Area expansion team, but the talks had not progressed to an actual bid. That includes a team led by Alanna Beard, a four-time All-Star and WNBA champion who has been working to bring the African American Sports and Entertainment Group (AASEG) to Oakland.
The viability of the Auckland bid has been repeatedly questioned. Several sources briefed on the proceedings said Engelbert never met with the group led by Beard.
Undoubtedly, if the WNBA is so laser-focused on the Warriors, any other option will certainly not feel like much. All involved understood that if Lacob wanted the team, it was his. time.
But Beard — who congratulated the Warriors on Instagram — is a black woman entrepreneur and celebrity who has played in more than half of her WNBA seasons. AASEG is an all-black group backed by legal firm Loop Capital and comprised of successful black executives such as Shonda Scott and celebrity agent Bill Duffy.
Obviously, these things have a bunch of unknown factors and behind-the-scenes variables at play. But it feels counter to the WNBA’s ideology to pretend that a team led by Beard isn’t taken seriously.
Beard and AASEG were blindsided by the news that the fighters had been locked up. Imagine you’re working on financing only to find out a week before the announcement that the deal with the Warriors is all but done. And the vision came from this journalist to get an opinion.
The WNBA’s smart move would have been to honestly assess their chances, if nothing else. The WNBA is a league that prides itself on inclusivity, a league backed by black women who are known for their commitment to justice and equality. Although the warriors were no brainer choices, the killing was shy of the adults.
But it’s hard to see all the angles when you’re trying to survive. It’s hard to plan seven steps ahead when you’re feeling a little defeated.
It was clear from all sides that this was a major step forward for security. The WNBA didn’t require just any NBA team to consider the women’s game as mandatory, tax-exempt. That road has been traveled. The WNBA needed a game changer to deal with the juggernaut. A market that could set a new bar with new value and a franchise that could shape the direction of the league.
That’s definitely the Bay Area. Looks like the Warriors.
(Top photo of Joe Lacob, Kathy Engelbert and Peter Guber: Eric Risberg/AP)