Toronto nailed its WNBA expansion audition.
As the Chicago Sky took down the Minnesota Lynx 82-74 in preseason action Saturday, the sold-out crowd of nearly 20,000 fans in Scotiabank Arena cheered them on with an “almost ear-splitting” din, Sportsnet reported.
While the prospect of WNBA expansion remains front of mind, the timeline remains murky. But the WNBA’s first game in Canada proved that the league might just be ready now.
build it and they will come. 🇨🇦 pic.twitter.com/daaDJbUheb— Natalie Achonwa (@NatAchon) May 13, 2023
build it and they will come. 🇨🇦 pic.twitter.com/daaDJbUheb
“There’s no question that we’re ready,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said Saturday. ‘”When commissioner [Cathy] Engelbert thinks it’s the right business decision, obviously, we’re all going to feel really ready for that decision.
“It felt really coordinated,” she continued. “Someone holds up a sign that says ‘Toronto wants WNBA,’ people go crazy. It just felt like everyone was locked in on what the mission was: it was to make this an incredible environment. And they did that.”
Sky guard Feyonda Fitzgerald called expansion “more than needed,” pointing to the number of quality players that will be cut before the regular season due to limited roster spots.
The hope is that Toronto provides a model for other cities – and that one day, it’ll be at the front of the list for expansion. According to Engelbert, Toronto “scored very high” in the league’s evaluation of possible expansion destinations.
For Canadian forward Bridget Carleton, it was a “cool experience” to get to play in her hometown.
“I’m biased, first of all, but obviously I think Toronto would be a great market, I think we’re proving that this weekend,” Carleton said. “It’s almost a trial run to see what it would to have a WNBA team here. Obviously with the success of the Raptors, winning a championship in 2019, you feel the excitement around basketball in general in Canada.
“There’s like a culture … that people want to be part of it, it’s not just putting the ball in the hoop … it’s about going to games, engaging on social media, the whole thing around basketball. It’s exciting to be part of that growth and I think we’re proving that Toronto is a good market for that growth.”
And Carleton wasn’t the only one amazed by the crowd.
“It was really incredible: a sold-out crowd, they really brought the energy. It was biggest crowd I’ve played in front of and it was really fun,” Sky forward Morgan Bertsch said. “It really gets you energized as a player and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as being part of the first game played in Canada.”
The game sold out quickly, and the fans came ready. In addition to the crowd, merchandise was flying off the shelves to the point that some stands were sold out by halftime.
“[This game selling out] shows if you give these women a platform and an opportunity, there are people that want to see it,’’ Sky star Kahleah Copper told TSN. ‘‘The WNBA coming to Canada and the game selling out in 18 minutes goes to show Toronto’s ready for expansion.”