What went wrong with the 2019 WNBA Toronto bid

Photo by Zia Syed

It’s business. The Toronto WNBA bid is not personal — in fact, it is. In sport, bidding cities are all about personality: finances, location, people, culture, stars, fandom.

Who started the bid? Two white male entrepreneurs. Daniel Escott and Max Abrahams. This bold move added to the momentum of basketball in 2019. So, what went wrong?

The bid simply was not appealing enough to the WNBA. Toronto is a phenomenal city, but it was not highlighted enough.

The WNBA bid claimed to represent Canada’s first women’s basketball team, highlight representation, and build more of a foundation for girls’ sports. However, Escott and Abrahams could not transcribe these goals to persuade the WNBA to invest in this pursuit.

If the Toronto franchise bid aspires to gain the momentum of the Canadian women’s soccer team or the Raptors, it needs the financial support of the city and dedication from its citizens.

The WNBA needs a guarantee on its return on investment and Toronto has yet to show its colours. The team could easily be overshadowed by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, and Raptors. And where was the support of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment in this bid?

Previous bids show that big events and franchises are harder to host in Canada without government or business support.

For example, the 2026 Calgary Winter Olympic and Paralympic bid was dismissed due to the lack of support from the people and the government. This bid was $5 billion. It cost much less than hosting in Stockholm and Milan. They have facilities, past history, success and experience.

Still, Calgary failed to bid for an international event.

A bid for a Toronto WNBA team may not be the Olympics but it is a big expansion for the organization.

Toronto has character. What the bid needs is to fill all the missing gaps on representation, community support, and garnering True She the North momentum. This means coast to coast unification.

Basketball is a relatively accessible sport. The courts are public at parks and often low-cost to be shared at community centres. Additionally, basketball accounts for intersectionality meaning that people of different genders, cultures, religions, social locations and incomes can participate.

A WNBA team can encourage girls to aspire to be in sport and offer opportunities to practice soft skills like communication or collaboration.

However, the grandiose gesture of the bid did not capture the attention of decision-makers at the WNBA or Canadians.

What next? We can learn from this experience and prepare for the expansion.

Changes can look like 1) rebuilding credibility 2) woman leadership and voices taking part in the bid 3) involving investors and stars who already support the WNBA 4) expanding community.

Putting women leadership at the forefront of this project is essential for credibility because Escott and Abrahams have a history of accountability issues with their previous e-sports team. This directly affects the public’s trust in their capabilities.

Women leaders and spectators must fight for this opportunity.

Women and girls across the nation must show their desire for a team and community where the WNBA can thrive.

Toronto needs to look like a home for the franchise to grow exponentially. If Toronto wants a True North Team, they will have to further build the foundation from the ground up to support the careers of women athletes, coaches, trainers and management.

We predict that Canada will be ready for a WNBA team closer to 2025. Toronto requires more transformation prior to the expansion.

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