Canadian public broadcaster CBC has reported that the country’s largest city, Toronto, has been awarded expansion franchise rights for a new team to compete in North American women’s basketball’s elite-tier WNBA competition.

The expansion franchise, set to enter the league from the 2026 season onward, has reportedly been awarded to the Kilmer Sports investment group owned by Toronto billionaire Larry Tanenbaum.

Tanenbaum is the chair of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), a sports-focused private investment group in which Kilmer Sports also holds a 25% stake. MLSE already controls a number of local sports sides, most relevantly the Toronto Raptors of men’s basketball’s top-tier NBA, as well as ice hockey’s Toronto Maple Leafs and soccer’s Toronto FC.

The investment group also owns the Scotiabank Arena, which is the home of the Raptors, the Leafs, and now a likely venue for the Toronto WNBA franchise, should it be announced.

Upon its arrival in the league, a Toronto WNBA franchise would be the league’s first team in Canada, and its 14th overall, with a San Francisco-based franchise awarded to the Golden State Warriors set to enter the league as a 13th team from 2025 onwards.

Of the 12 sides in the WNBA, only two do not have an NBA team in the same market (the Seattle Storm did until 2008) and only one was an entirely new basketball market (Connecticut), highlighting the importance of existing basketball investment in a community to new WNBA franchises in what was likely a major driver behind the potential entry of Toronto into the league.

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In April, WNBA commissioner Cathy Englebert named Toronto, alongside the US cities of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), Portland (Oregon), Denver (Colorado), and Nashville (Tennesee) as locations that the league is in discussion with over housing expansion franchises.

Speaking at the WNBA’s annual draft, Englebert stated at the time that the WNBA’s aim was to expand to 16 teams by 2028, adding that she was “pretty confident” of the league’s ability to do so.

Tanenbaum has been involved in basketball for a number of years, playing a role in MLSE’s acquisition of the Raptors in 1998, and currently sits as chair of the NBA’s board of governors.

Kilmer Sports, an arm of his Kilmer Group conglomerate, is headed up by Ivan Gazidis, the former chief executive of major European soccer clubs AC Milan and Arsenal, who was appointed as president in March.

Gazidis, who has thirty years of experience as a business executive in soccer and sports, stepped down as AC Milan’s chief executive in December 2022 following the takeover by US-based private equity firm RedBird Capital Partners.