Toronto confirmed as first WNBA franchise outside the United States

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

Kilmer Sports Ventures, led by Larry Tanenbaum, will pay $50 million for the team. Tanenbaum is also 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.

“As I have grown internationally, I have tried to think about the next steps on a global platform,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. “It helps us reach new audiences and bring in new partners. What I love about going to another country is that the young girls and boys can see professional women’s basketball. That is also important.”

Toronto will become the WNBA’s 14th franchise, with expansion Golden State Valkyries launching next year.

“Our sports franchises in Toronto are thriving, but we have been missing one critical component: women’s professional sports,” said Tanenbaum. “The world is finally taking notice of something that has always been there: the enormous talent, passion and competition in women’s sports. So I saw another 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 written sports history.”

Toronto will play at the 8,700-seat Coca-Cola Coliseum at Exhibition Place and will have the occasional option to move on to the larger Scotiabank Arena. Coca-Cola Coliseum opened in 1921 and is also home to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.

“Women’s sports are a good thing,” Tanenbaum said. “Just look around you – it’s not a moment, it’s a movement and it’s just the beginning. The investment we will make in the franchise will also be no different than the other franchises.”

Tanenbaum said the team will also play some games in Vancouver and Montreal. As for the team’s name, he said they would take their time and “solicit public input.”

Kilmer Sports Ventures, set up as a standalone company to operate the team, has committed to building a practice facility, but until that is complete it will train at the University of Toronto’s Goldring Center for High Performance Sport.

Engelbert said the WNBA exhibition games in Canada over the past two seasons showcased the passion the country’s fans have for women’s basketball.

“When I was ready for the preseason game, Kia [Nurse] and I did a youth clinic. The reaction of young girls to Kia and what she stands for, they admire her so much,” said Engelbert.

Nurse, a point guard for the Los Angeles Sparks, is one of a handful of Canadian players playing in the WNBA with more to come.

“It’s definitely helpful to have familiar names,” Engelbert said.

The commissioner expects the league to consist of sixteen teams by 2028. “We have already had a lot of interest and after the draft it became more tangible and serious from quite a number of cities,” Engelbert said. “We’re in a good position to get to 16 certainly in ’27-28.”