Portland and the WNBA are no strangers. The city once boasted the Portland Fire, a team that, unfortunately, is in the WNBA record books for all the wrong reasons.
The franchise was created in 2000 and lasted just two years, folding in 2000. If you are a Gen Z’er, you may not even know about the existence of this franchise.
This time in WNBA history, overall, wasn’t so great, with very little support and little fan interest. Fast forward 20 years and the league is as popular as ever, the movement behind women’s sports is as loud as it’s been, and the idea of expanding the league is as real as it’s ever been.
Maybe it didn’t work out that well for the league and the city of Portland two decades ago, but I am here to tell you that this could be a new beginning and a successful venture for both parties if the league expands and chooses the pacific northwest.
There are a few reasons I think Portland deserves a WNBA team and why I believe one would thrive there. For starters, it seems like an ownership group is already interested in the location; Portland has proven to be a great basketball town as the Blazers have loyal fans and the social maturation of the city.
In February 2022, it was reported that a man named Kirk Brown and at least one other group were potentially interested in bringing a women’s basketball team back to Portland, according to Willamette Week.
What is interesting is that a potential WNBA team would need to share the Blazers’ arena, and current owners may not be all that interested. However, Phil Knight recently put in a sizable offer for the franchise, and WW reports that Brown is a part of that group.
“Earlier the same day, a representative for Brown confirmed WW’s earlier reporting to The Athletic: He wants to bring a WNBA team to Portland in the women’s basketball league’s next round of expansion. The Athletic reported that the league is looking at 10 to 12 cities, hoping to pick one or two as expansion sites by September.”
It seems like Brown is so motivated that he is joining in with Knight in a pursuit to get the Blazers and then add back a WNBA franchise. As far as it comes to owners putting in the work, it is very impressive that Brown is already making this kind of commitment. As the WNBA picks from 10 to 12 cities, according to The Athletic, you must imagine that this kind of dedication cannot be overlooked.
Basketball and Sports Town
Portland residents LOVE the Blazers and would likely like a WNBA team as well. Back when the Fire were still playing, they were bringing in crowds of nearly 8,000 people. To put that into perspective, the Seattle Storm average just over 10,000 fans a night. That is the most in the league and the most by 4,000 fans.
The fact that the Fire, 20 years ago, were bringing in 8,000 indeed says a lot about how popular basketball and women’s basketball in particular is.
The Blazers haven’t been great in the last two seasons, but if you looked at their successful campaigns in 2017-18 and 2018-19, when they finished top third in the West, their attendance was incredible. They ranked 9th in average attendance in that first year, right behind the Warriors. The following year they ranked 8th, a spot ahead of the New York Knicks.
When you consider the small market of Portland compared to other massive cities, the numbers speak for themselves. These fans love basketball and have proven they are willing to attend games. Even in this most recent season, where the team missed the playoffs, the attendance still ranked 14th in the top half of the league.
Another team to look at is the Portland Thorns, a professional women’s soccer team. They average more fans than any other team in the league. In fact, if you combine the averages of the second and third teams, they barely edge out the Thorns.
You don’t have to live under a rock to see that there are many places in the country that still, for whatever reason, do not believe in or support women’s professional sports. But the numbers that back those attendances up show that Portland is certainly not one of those places.
OregonLive spoke with Jim Etzel, the CEO of SportsOregon, who summed up Portland in the perfect way.
“It’s part of our mission to try to foster opportunities for franchises and properties,” he said. “We think the WNBA would be very successful with the right ownership group in Portland. We are a great marketplace for women’s athletics.”
He hits it right on the money. Portland is very progressive and forward-thinking, and it is the perfect environment for a city that would support an NBA franchise. Seattle is currently the most popular WNBA market, and it is easy to see the similarities between those two cities.
It is clear in my mind that Portland would foster the perfect environment for a WNBA team to thrive. The failure of the former franchise was a success on the court, not in the stands or their fanbase. When it comes to growing the game, adding another team to the pacific northwest could be a vast untapped market that will expand this awesome sport.