How Close is Portland to Securing a WNBA Expansion Team?
At a private roundtable event on Monday, Senator Ron Wyden and a group of Trail Blazers and Thorns executives made their case to commissioner Cathy Engelbert, but there's still work to be done.
PORTLAND, Ore. — For a lot of reasons, Portland would seem to be a no-brainer to be a part of the WNBA's long-rumored expansion.
The city and top decision-makers from the Trail Blazers and NWSL's Portland Thorns did their best to put all of those reasons on display at a private roundtable event on Monday, where Oregon's senior U.S. Senator, Ron Wyden, hosted WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert for what can best be described as a hard sell of the city to the league.
One of the selling points is the location of the event itself. Many of the power brokers of the state's sports scene, and a middle-school girls' basketball team, crowded into the Sports Bra, a relatively new establishment in northeast Portland opened by Jenny Nguyen with a novel concept: a sports bar that only airs women's sports.
That the Sports Bra is, by all accounts, doing huge business would seem to make Portland an attractive market for the WNBA. So would the widespread interest in the women's college game here—both Oregon head coach Kelly Graves and Oregon State head coach Scott Rueck were present on Monday, as well as several of their players, to speak to the community support their programs have gotten.
Consider also the makeup of the Blazers contingent that was at the Sports Bra on Monday. The organization's top executives on the basketball and business sides—general manager Joe Cronin and president of business operations Dewayne Hankins—were on the panel, but so were two of the three former WNBA players currently working in the Blazers' front office, director of basketball planning and strategy Asjha Jones and scouting manager Sheri Sam. (Tina Thompson, who joined the organization over the summer as a scout, was in attendance but did not participate in the roundtable.)
If there's anything that could sell a professional women's sports league on a city being worthy of an expansion team, that collection of names in that room is it.
"I feel like I'm on the basketball version of Shark Tank," Engelbert joked after Wyden gave her the rundown of attendees.
But there are still hurdles the city and league have to clear to make it happen.