WNBA expansion timeline

WNBA expansion timeline

The WNBA will finally, officially add another team — the first new franchise since 2008 after years of speculation.

The league plans to announce Thursday that the Golden State Warriors will promote the team, according to multiple sources briefed on the matter. It will hold games at the Chase Center in San Francisco and is headquartered in Oakland, The Athletic previously reported.

The league’s history of expansion and contraction is fairly circuitous, but the Bay Area was seen as a natural place to add a team thanks to its rich women’s basketball history. Owner Jo Lacob is considered a pioneer of women’s basketball, so the Warriors are a natural fit to make a WNBA team (more on that later).

If you’re keeping score, six WNBA teams now use NBA platforms with direct counterparts, and four others share NBA markets.

Here’s a relatively brief overview of the WNBA expansion and how we arrived at the league’s 18 total franchises and Thursday’s announcement:

April 1996: “We’ve Got Next.”

The NBA’s Board of Governors approved the Women’s National Basketball Association’s proposal to begin play in 1997.

June 1997: League recommendations come out with 8 teams

The inaugural WNBA season begins with eight franchises: the Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers, Houston Comets and New York Liberty in the Eastern Conference with the Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, Sacramento Monarchs and Utah Stars in the West. Houston won its first WNBA title.

1998 season: WNBA adds 2 teams

The league moved quickly to expand after its first season, adding the Detroit Shock and Washington Mystics in 1998.

Total teams: 10

1999 season: 2 more teams added

The WNBA would add two teams again in 1999, bringing the Minnesota Lynx and Orlando Miracle to the stage.

Total teams: 12

2000 season: The league adds 4 more teams

The WNBA will add teams in Indiana, Miami, Portland and Seattle, bringing the total to 16.

Total teams: 16

2002: The NBA sells the WNBA franchises

From the league’s inception until the 2002 season, the WNBA was jointly owned by the NBA. However, after the 2002 campaign, the NBA sold franchises to their operating counterparts within the NBA or to third parties. As a result, two teams moved – Utah to San Antonio and Orlando to Connecticut, the latter becoming the first team to be owned by a third party. As a result of the decision, two teams, the Miami Soul and the Portland Fire, folded.

Total teams: 14

December 2003: Rockers fold

The Cleveland Rockers, one of the WNBA’s eight original teams, were originally purchased after the NBA put the franchise up for sale in 2002, but decided they no longer wanted to operate it after the 2003 season. , and another local replacement did not come, so the team folded.

Total teams: 13

February 2006: WNBA expands to Chicago

The league named an expansion team in Chicago in February 2006, later renamed the Sky. The Charlotte Sting folded that same year, however, after the NBA’s Bobcats announced they were disbanding the team.

Total teams: 13

October 2007: Atlanta acquires a team.

The WNBA awarded the Atlanta team in October 2007. His dream started playing in the 2008 season.

Total teams: 14

In the year At the end of 2008: Comets stopped working

The league’s expansion to 14 teams was short-lived when the WNBA took ownership of the Comets in late 2008 and failed to find new owners in December. Houston won the league’s first four titles.

Total teams: 13

At the end of 2009: movement and folding

After the Sacramento Monarchs folded, the WNBA sits at 12 teams for the longest time. The league originally wanted to move the team to the Bay Area, but ultimately did not find a new ownership group.

The Detroit Shock moved to Tulsa that same year.

Total teams: 12

2013-2020: Little activity on the expansion front

As far as expansion goes, the WNBA’s enthusiasm for on-court production in the late 2010s — and a changing of the guard — has undergone.

The 2013 WNBA draft saw a new generation of superstars enter the league in Brittany Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins-Smith as Tina Thompson, Sheryl Swoopes and other original stars recently retired.

Although the Sparks ownership group folded in 2013, the league was able to quickly find new owners this time around. This was considered a key indicator of the WNBA’s improved viability at the time.

The Shock moved to Dallas as the Dallas Wings in 2016, and the San Antonio Stars became the Las Vegas Aces in 2018.

January 2020: New CBA, new era

After the players pulled out of the collective bargaining agreement in 2018, the league and players’ union announced a new contract from 2020 through the 2027 season, bringing major changes to player compensation, benefits, free agency and more. The season-long Commissioner’s Cup competition was also introduced, although the campaign will not start until 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

2021 Season: 25th Anniversary

The league’s quarter-century milestone has raised natural questions about whether and when the WNBA will expand again. Fans in logical new markets have grown restless as the league has gone without a new team since 2008 — not to mention having 144 roster spots in a sport with an exploding college talent pool of players alone.

Go deeper

WNBA Confidential: An anonymous poll shows more players are looking for roster spots than expansion

October 2021: Oakland’s expansion efforts ramp up.

Former WNBA star Alana Beard has announced she is partnering with African American Sports and Entertainment to lead the effort to bring an expansion team to Oakland.

The City Council approved a schedule that could be used by the team to maintain Oakland Arena (which you may remember as Oracle Arena, where the Warriors used to play). The parties took a step forward in February 2023 when the city agreed to grant AASEG exclusive bargaining rights, including half of the Coliseum arena.

Go Deeper

Go deeper

Thompson: Oakland should pave the way for WNBA, black ownership, change.

Midway through 2022: WNBA is seriously talking about expansion, commission says

Commissioner Kathy Engelbert said the league hopes to expand to one or two cities in 2022, either at the start of the playoffs in September or at the end of the final year.

Engelbert said the WNBA started the list with 10 to 12 cities and then narrowed it down to 100 potential locations based on various factors.

The Athletics also identified six markets that appear to be the most prepared and likely candidates: Nashville, Oakland, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco and Toronto.

December 2022: The League’s timeline has fallen off track

As the WNBA continues to evaluate where its next team will be and which ownership group will manage it, the league will not meet a year-end deadline previously set to name a new expansion team.

The league is seriously considering 10 interested ownership teams, with Engelbert saying there were roughly 20 early in the league’s process. She said the league is in no rush to identify a new team and city. (Engelbert told Sports Business Journal in May 2023 that she was still considering 20 cities.)

Engelbart’s new team isn’t expected to begin play until the 2025 season, he said, giving the league’s coaches and executives time to prepare for the expansion draft and free agency. The commissioner confirmed that she had discussed the expansion fee numbers with certain ownership groups.

May 2023: The WNBA heads to Canada.

In a move many interpreted as an attempt to expand the Toronto market, the Sky and Lynx played a pre-season game at Scotiabank Arena. The first in 2004 was in Monterrey, Mexico, and the second in 2011 in Manchester, England.

The Toronto game was a success by all accounts.

2023 Star Break: Still no concrete updates

In a news conference before last season’s All-Star Game, Engelbert hit the road on expansion, saying: “Our discussions with potential ownership teams are moving in the right direction and we will have more news about us (expansion) later this season.” She said instead the WNBA was prioritizing the upcoming media rights deal, player compensation and adding corporate partners.

September 26, 2023: Gulf expansion deal closed.

The Athletic reports that the Golden State Warriors are close to a deal to bring an expansion franchise to the Bay Area, and an official announcement could come as early as October.

If completed, the franchise will play its games at the Chase Center and be headquartered at the team’s practice facility in Oakland. “Discussions with new ownership groups continue to move in the right direction,” a league spokesman said in response to the report.

Warriors owner Joe Lacob is a longtime fan of American women’s basketball. In the year It was instrumental in the formation of the American Basketball League, which began play in late 1996 (and folded in late 1998). Lacob owned the San Jose Leathers, led by Stanford star Jennifer Azzi and Sherry Sam.

As long as the Warriors want the franchise, it has been speculated by many that they would be the league’s preferred ownership team should the league expand to the Bay Area.

October 3-4, 2023: League teases expansion announcement

In a series of tweets from its official account, the WNBA recently hinted at an expansion announcement.

WNBA size per season

If you’re more of a numbers person, here’s an overview of seasonal changes.

The expansion and contraction of the WNBA

SeasonNumber of groups

In 1997


In 1998


In 1999




In 2003




In 2006


In 2007






2010 – now


Lost WNBA teams

Moved to another location.

Detroit Shock – 1998-2009 (moved to Tulsa, Okla.) Orlando Miracle – 1999-2002 (moved to Uncasville, Conn.) Utah Stars – 1997-2002 (moved to San Antonio, Texas) Tulsa Shock – 2010-2015 to Arlington, Texas ) San Antonio Stars – 2003-2017 (moved to Las Vegas)


Charlotte Sting – 1997-2006 Cleveland Rockers – 1997-2003 Houston Comets – 1997-2008 Miami Sol – 2000-2002 Portland Fire – 2000-2002 Sacramento Monarchs – 1997-2009

(Photos: Rob Carr / Getty Images and Lucas Peltier / USA Today)