Commentary

Bay Area would be good for WNBA

Updated: January 18, 2014, 1:05 PM ET
By Michelle Smith | espnW.com

The WNBA is having what must be considered serious discussions with the Golden State Warriors to determine the future of the Los Angeles Sparks franchise, two weeks after the news broke that the Sparks' team ownership handed the team back to the league after losing $12 million over the past six years.

It's a beat-the-clock race to save one of the league's founding franchises, because the business of running the world's best professional women's basketball league is on hold until the Sparks' future is determined.

A league schedule awaits. The announcement of a draft date awaits. The players' new collective bargaining agreement awaits.

The Warriors publicly expressed their interest in the team in the days immediately following the announcement that the Sparks' family ownership group, led by CEO Paula Madison, would no longer be able to operate the team.

And while the league said it is reaching out to a variety of possible new owners, the Warriors' ownership is the only potential buyer willing to go public so far with its interest. Does that mean there aren't other suitors? Not necessarily. Does that mean the Sparks have a chance to remain in Los Angeles? Possibly.

[+] EnlargeNneka Ogwumike
Shane Bevel/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Bay Area is one of the most supportive women's basketball markets in the country thanks to the decades-long success of Stanford -- where Nneka Ogwumike starred in college -- and now Cal.

But right now, in mid-January, with training camps opening in about five months, Golden State looks like the best option on the table to save the Sparks. And not in the consolation prize way. A move to the Bay Area could end up as a great move for the WNBA.

The best part about the Warriors' involvement thus far is that Golden State's ownership wants to be here. No arm-twisting involved. The Warriors have publicly said they've been interested in a WNBA team since Joe Lacob and Peter Guber bought the NBA franchise in 2010.

And that is why the WNBA should be doing everything it can to make this happen.

An owner with ample resources, genuine interest in the game, and one of the most supportive women's basketball markets in the country wants a team.

You have a team with a superstar player in Candace Parker, a local star in Nneka Ogwumike (who starred at Stanford) and a roster capable of winning a title.

It should be a no-brainer.

Except for the pesky business details that get in the way.

Such as the debt incurred by the previous ownership group, and who might be picking up that bill.

Such as blocking arena time in a major market on five months' notice.

Such as moving an entire franchise's operations -- from marketing to ticket sales to sponsorship -- to a new city in a matter of weeks to ramp up for a season.

But the benefits to the league and the Warriors organization would seem to outweigh the obstacles.

The Warriors organization is chock-full of folks with ties to the women's game. Lacob owned the San Jose Lasers in the American Basketball League. Team executive Rick Welts was instrumental in launching the league with Val Ackerman back in 1997. Jim Weyermann, the Warriors' head of new franchise development, was the general manager of the Seattle Storm for three seasons and also the GM of the ABL's Seattle Reign.

Golden State looks like the best option on the table to save the Sparks. And not in the consolation prize way. A move to the Bay Area could end up as a great move for the WNBA.

The Bay Area has been one of the most supportive women's basketball markets in the country thanks to the decades-long success of Stanford and now Cal. And there's good reason to think there are ample sponsorship opportunities, as well, given the region is home base to some of the top technology and media companies in the world.

While the timing might not be perfect, the opportunity to run a team of this caliber -- as opposed to the ground-up build of an expansion franchise -- will likely not come around again for Lacob & Co.

Sacramento, of course, has to be watching this with great interest.

The Monarchs were strongly supported in the state capitol area during their time there and folded not because of a lack of fan support, but because of the financial issues being experienced by team owners, the Maloof brothers.

Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson has talked about wanting to have a WNBA team back in relation to the city's successful bid to keep the NBA Kings in town, and a new arena, scheduled to open in 2015, would certainly be a lure.

But a Sparks move to the Bay Area would almost certainly kill Sacramento's hopes of bringing back a WNBA franchise.

In New York, at WNBA headquarters, the clock is ticking and the lid is shut.

The league website has yet to acknowledge the Sparks' situation, and the Sparks' website is still up and running and encouraging fans to purchase season tickets for 2014.

But if the WNBA has gone quiet in the quest to make a great deal, one that will improve the league's future prospects and give the Sparks a good home, it might be worth it.

Michelle Smith

Contributor, espnW.com

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