Oct 14, 2021 - Sports

Nashville readies its pitch for WNBA franchise

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A coalition of city leaders is slowly making progress on its mission to attract a women's professional sports team to Nashville.

  • The women's professional sports ad hoc committee, led by influential attorney Margaret Behm, met last week to hear an update from the city's consultant.

Why it matters: Members of the Metro Sports Authority, the Nashville Sports Council and top tourism leaders believe the city is popular and passionate enough to expand its sports portfolio. Rumors of new pro teams have swirled for years but WNBA prospects are pulling away from the rest of the pack.

  • The professional sports consulting firm CAA ICON released an initial report last year laying out the women's pro sports landscape and the possibility of each league expanding. Since then, Nashville has gotten WNBA buzz.
  • Nashville and Tennessee have a proud history in women's basketball, highlighted by the success of the legendary Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt.

What they're saying: "Nashville has been listed as one of five or six (cities) that the media speculates would be an appropriate place for a WNBA team," Behm said during last week's meeting. "It is one of the most difficult leagues to break into because of the limited opportunities and the number of teams. So I see an opportunity here for Nashville."

What's next: CAA ICON plans to complete a new report by the end of the year focusing on the local economic impact of women's sports and an in-depth market analysis of Nashville's potential fit for a women's pro team.

Be smart: The WNBA, in its 25th season, is coming off its best television and streaming ratings since 2008 and recently signed long-term partnership deals with large companies such as Google, Deloitte and AT&T. With household names that include Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi currently playing in the Finals, the WNBA is easily the most successful women's pro league in the country.

  • WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said earlier this year expansion is "something that, as we’ve come out of this pandemic, hopefully next year that we’ll prepare to start talking about."
  • The league currently has just 12 franchises and expansion has been rumored for years. Now, its financial ecosystem seems healthy enough to move forward.
  • The key next step is identifying possible venues a WNBA franchise could call home as well as drawing the attention of prospective ownership groups.

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