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Toronto sports mogul Larry Tanenbaum pursuing WNBA expansion team

Billionaire Larry Tanenbaum is pursuing a WNBA expansion team for Toronto, CBC Sports has learned.

Tanenbaum, a minority owner and chairman of sporting giant Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment which owns the Maple Leafs, Raptors, TFC, Argos and Marlies, is seeking the team through his holding company, the Kilmer Group.

CBC Sports spoke with three people familiar with the deal who requested confidentiality as they are not authorized to speak publicly about it.

A source said Tanenbaum’s group is expected to meet with WNBA leadership to discuss the bid and an announcement could come as soon as May.

When reached Monday, a WNBA spokesperson would not comment. Attempts to reach the Kilmer Group were unsuccessful.

In May 2023, when Scotiabank Arena played host to a sold-out WNBA pre-season game, league commissioner Cathy Englebert said Toronto was on a shortlist of 10 cities the league was looking at for expansion.

But published reports said Edward Rogers, chairman of Rogers Communications who owns 37.5 per cent of MLSE, opposed the bid. 

A man presents a ring to a player during a ceremony.
Larry Tanenbaum, left, presents a ring to Kyle Lowry in 2019 to celebrate the Toronto Raptors’ NBA championship. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

In October, the WNBA awarded its 13th franchise to the NBA’s Golden State Warriors for a reported $50 million US and planned to give one to a group in Portland as well before putting that bid on hold because of issues with its arena. 

Englebert said then that the league’s “goal is to have a 14th team by 2025” and reiterated that discussions were still underway with several cities.

A source said Tanenbaum is looking at Coca-Cola Coliseum on Toronto’s Exhibition grounds as a possible venue. It is home to the Marlies of the American Hockey League with a capacity of about 8,000. 

The source said he is considering building a practice facility there that could also serve as a training centre for the men’s and women’s national teams.

WATCH: Sold-out crowd at WNBA pre-season game in Toronto:

Copper leads Sky past Lynx in first WNBA game in Canada

10 months ago

Duration 1:06

Chicago defeats Minnesota 82-74 in the WNBA’s first-ever game in Canada. Kahleah Copper scores game-high 18 points and adds nine rebounds for Chicago. Chatham, Ont., native Bridget Carleton records three points for Minnesota.

Michael Bartlett, president of Basketball Canada, welcomed the potential of a women’s team and said it could only help open up the sport in Canada.

“Two specific things would help strengthen women’s basketball in Canada,” Bartlett said. “A domestic league for women, and then a professional WNBA team that would have the same lightning rod effect as the Raptors did.” 

It is expected that former MLSE executive Teresa Resch will be involved with the new franchise. She recently left her role as the Raptors’ vice-president of operations and player development.

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