Nashville Explores Possible WNBA Bid As League Consider Expansion

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The Women’s National Basketball Association is looking for a 13th house and a group of Nashville executives are preparing to launch Music City.

This week, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the league is working to expand beyond its current 12 cities. The organization has grown slowly after its creation 25 years ago. But the game has increased its audience in recent years.

News of the expansion reignites long-held hopes of bringing a professional women’s sports team to Nashville.

“It’s time to do something to support the women and girls of Davidson County,” said City Councilor Nancy VanReese. “We do the proper market research so that any group of potential homeowners have the data they need to make decisions. This is my personal opinion, but I would love to see it at the Municipal Auditorium.”

The effort comes as the WNBA and others prepare for the 50th anniversary of the adoption of Title IX next year. The law banned sex discrimination in federally funded educational institutions, opening the door for girls and women to participate in more sports programs.

The Sports Authority Board, which oversees sports institutions in Nashville, commissioned a market study to gauge the interest of local residents, tourists and advertisers in having a professional women’s sports team.

The second phase of this study was approved, at a cost of $ 75,000, last month.

Several years ago, VanReese joined Sports Authority Executive Director Monica Fawknotson and lawyer Margaret Behm on a committee tasked with bringing a women’s sports team to town.

“I really hope we can indicate how strong Nashville is for women’s basketball,” Behm said. “We did the job so that we had information to show the WNBA that this region loves women’s basketball.”

Athletic reported that WNBA ratings increased nearly 50% this season, compared to the 2020 COVID-impacted season, with games this year averaging more than 300,000 viewers.

Margaret Behm stands in the space of the Downtown Nashville Library which will become a new exhibit dedicated to the city's role in the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed American women the right to vote.

The WNBA’s recognition of the local popularity of women’s college sports, high merchandise sales and wide advertising reach bodes well for Nashville, Behm said.

“The city has invested a lot of money to watch men play sports,” Behm said. “This investment, as a city, would be worth it. It’s a long time coming.”

From a business standpoint, Nashville demonstrated its market potential by hosting the 2014 NCAA Women’s Final Four at Bridgestone Arena. The ratings were among the highest on record for the tournament, she said.

The popularity of women’s college basketball in the region will also boost Nashville’s bid, supporters believe.

Professional sport is enjoying a golden age of growth in Nashville.

  • A Major League Soccer stadium for Nashville SC is currently under construction.
  • The Tennessee Titans are in talks with city leaders about a major Nissan Stadium overhaul to modernize the site so it can host a Super Bowl.
  • Nashville Sounds MLB Stadium boasts the highest attendance of any sporting venue in the city.
  • An effort for the stadium in Major League Baseball is led by local developer John Loar and former United States Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. The ad hoc Music City Baseball coalition has a roster of famous entertainment and sports supporters.

The WNBA and Nashville would need a group of investors willing to cover team expenses and a location for their games.

Fans say they believe a professional women’s sports team could thrive in Nashville.

“The timing is about the right one,” VanReese said. “The city and the private investors have really invested hundreds of millions of dollars in professional men’s sport, and they haven’t spent anything on professional women’s sport.

“It’s time for the city to say, ‘This is who we are too.'”

You can reach Sandy Mazza by emailing [email protected], calling 615-726-5962 or on Twitter @SandyMazza.


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