Portland is among the cities the WNBA is looking to expand, but will a new series thrive? ‘She’s not thinking’

Jim Etzel, CEO of SportOregon, wasn’t as involved as he is now in the area’s sports scene when the WNBA’s Portland Fire played in Portland and burned brightly from 2000 to 2002 before fading out after three seasons.

But Eitsel remembers that they have a strong following and have certainly shown that the city can embrace women’s professional basketball.

Now, the man in charge of an organization developed to bring sporting events and teams to Portland, says he believes the time is more than right to bring the WNBA back to Rose City.

“It’s part of our mission to try to enhance franchise and property opportunities,” he said. “We believe the WNBA will be very successful with the right Portland ownership group. We are a great market for women’s athletics.”

The evidence is in the stadiums and arenas where professional football and women’s basketball flourished.

“We are a bigger city, a more mature city, and I think we are in a better position to support opportunities like this,” Etzel said.

Currently, Portland is one of six cities the WNBA could consider expanding into, according to This week’s report from Athleticwhich reported that billionaire representative Kirk Brown confirmed that he is leading an attempt to bring the WNBA team to Portland.

The 12-team league hopes to name up to two cities to receive expansion teams by 2024, according to the report. Athletic also lists Auckland, Nashville, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Toronto as potential locations. A decision is expected by September.

The Fire went 37-59 over three seasons but averaged about 8,500 fans per game. Profitability is not necessarily required for WNBA teams to remain operational. The league has never been profitable but is backed by the NBA, which is committed to helping the growth of women’s professional basketball in the United States.

Jackie Styles from the Portland fire

s.jackie.RL.neg #13-5…Portland, or Jackie Styles (cq) take the court during the Fire lineup announcements. During her final year at the Southwest Missouri State Stiles, she set the NCAA Women’s Career Record with 3,393 points. She was the fourth pick in the 2001 WNBA Draft. Stiles said of the introductions at the start of the games, “I can remember asking people, ‘What are you doing?'” Photo by Robin Larsen LC – OregonLC-Oregon

The popularity of the Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League and the rapid growth of women’s basketball in Oregon and Oregon State support the idea that a WNBA team can find a foothold with fans. Also, the NCAA Women’s Basketball Association games did well in Portland.

Etzel, who said SportOregon has been privy to talks about the WNBA’s return to Portland for about a year, said he sees the WNBA and women’s professional sports seeing an evolution that can be felt in Portland.

“Almost every major women’s sporting event in this market has performed very well,” Itzel said. “I think we are a strong market for women’s basketball. The enthusiasm we have around our performances in the Final Four, the Women’s Final Four. We think it will be an exceptionally successful event in our market and raise the bar for the game.”

The Thorns are very popular in Portland. They led the league in attendance during the 2021 season, drawing 14,391 per game. Racing Louisville FC was second with a score of 6,610. The average league attendance finished at 5,528. This season, Thorns are second at 13,222 behind expansion team Angel City FC (Los Angeles) at 19202. The average league attendance is 7,404.

Oregon Ducks women’s basketball coach Kelly Graves, who has produced several WNBA players, including Sabrina Ionescu of the New York Liberty, said he believes the Portland area will host a new professional women’s basketball team.

“To me, that’s a no-brainer,” Graves said.

He cited the state’s popularity at all levels as one of the many reasons he believes the WNBA team can thrive.

“There is an appreciation for women’s sports in the Northwest,” Greaves said. “There is great girls’ basketball, so the grassroots in the area has been strong for decades. And then you have two of the biggest fan bases in the college hoops right here in your own backyard. A lot of people know and love women’s basketball in the field. Obviously. That Portlanders are excited about hoops. Look at the jackets.”

Indiana Fever vs New York Liberty

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 14: New York Liberty’s Sabrina Ionescu #20 hits back after making a three-point basket in the final seconds of the second half against Indiana Fever at Barclays Center on May 14, 2021 in the Brooklyn area of ​​New York City. Liberty won 90-87. Note to User: User expressly acknowledges and agrees, by downloading or using this image, that User agrees to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Sarah Steer/Getty Images)Getty Images

The popularity of women’s basketball in Oregon certainly does not harm the cause. The Ducks averaged 7,551 fans during the 2021-22 season. Oregon averaged 3,900.

When the 2018-2019 ducks reached the fourth final, they averaged 7,148 in Eugene. Their regional win over Mississippi at Moda Center in Portland attracted 11538.

The following season, the Ducks fans, led by Ionesco, averaged 10,852 fans per home game in a season that was finally interrupted by the pre-tournament COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Graves said using this team’s popularity as a measuring stick for the WNBA is probably not justified.

“That was lightning in a bottle with Sabrina and these guys,” he said. “This team, they were like rock stars.”

Etzel agreed, saying that the popularity of the Oregon State and Oregon State teams would not determine the viability of the WNBA franchise, in part due to the school affiliations that bring fans to group events.

However, Etzel said its popularity at least contributes to the body of evidence supporting the idea that there is a great appetite for high-ranking female collars.

“Our pointers are mostly just a broader look, a look at how we support women’s athletics in this market,” he said. “And to the maturation of the league. Twenty-five years is no small matter.”

The Blazers released the following statement regarding the potential expansion of the WNBA to Portland:

“As an organization, we embrace anyone whose mission is to grow basketball in our region, and with the WNBA team, we look forward to expanding our great game together,” the Blazers said in a statement. “Oregon has a proven track record of embracing and promoting women’s sports in an authentic and meaningful way, and it is not surprising to us that there may be interest in bringing a WNBA team to market.”

The Pacific Northwest has really been kind to one of the WNBA franchises. Seattle Storm leads the WNBA in attendance with an average of 10,553 per game. In second place is the Minnesota Lynx, with a price tag of 6994.

(Note: John Maher, president of Oregonian Media Group, is a volunteer member of SportOregon’s board of directors.)

– Aaron Fentress | afentress@Oregonian.com | Tweet embed (Twitter), Tweet embed (Instagram), Tweet embed (Facebook).

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