Can Longshot Louisville Pull Off A WNBA Upset?

Can Longshot Louisville Pull Off A WNBA Upset?
Fact Checked by Nate Hamilton

One of the surest bets in professional sports is WNBA expanding in the near future, but when it comes to Louisville’s chances for a franchise, it looks like the city is a long shot yet again. Not the best news for local WNBA fans planning to partake in Kentucky sports betting.

The topic came up Sunday when Commissioner Cathy Engelbert held a press conference in Brooklyn before a matchup between the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces, the two best teams in the WNBA.

“This is really something I think we need to do,” she said. “Not just because of opening up potentially 12-to-24 roster spots, but also with a league that’s the longest-tenured women’s professional league in the country by double any other, we need more than 12 teams.”

In a May interview with Front Office Sports, Engelbert listed a few cities and regions as possibilities, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Austin, Denver, Nashville, and Charlotte.

Louisville did not appear in that article.

“We need to be in some big cities in this country, where our demographic and psychographic and all our data and information shows that there’s some great markets out there for WNBA basketball,” she added as part of her remarks Sunday.

Louisville Among The ‘Field’

Earlier this month, and our sister sites covering other states compiled a list of potential WNBA expansion markets and gave them hypothetical odds you won't find on Kentucky betting apps for landing a franchise.

City/Metro % Chance Odds
San Francisco, CA 63.6% -175
Philadelphia, PA 33.3% +200
Toronto, Ont. 33.3% +200
Nashville, TN 25.0% +300
Denver, CO 15.4% +550
Portland, OR 12.5% +700
Other 16.7% +500

San Francisco is the favorite, given the connection to the Golden State Warriors and the Chase Center, as well as a potential ownership group and another arena across the bay in Oakland.

Among the other cities on the odds board, Philadelphia, Toronto, Denver, and Portland all have NBA franchises – an asset Louisville missed out on twice two decades ago. Austin, which Engelbert mentioned previously, did not make our list, but Nashville did. Both are considered thriving cities that are seeing significant population and economic growth. The same can be said for a city like Charlotte, which again didn’t make our board, but also has an NBA franchise.

WNBA To Louisville: Pros And Cons

Given the competition and what they have to offer, it’s understandable why Louisville would be lumped into the “field” with other cities at +500. Still, while Louisville does have some shortcomings compared to the other cities on the list – market size for one, investor base for another – it does have an ardent supporter in Mayor Craig Greenberg.

Greenberg, a local businessman, developer, and attorney, won the mayor’s race last year. He invited Engelbert to be one of his guests for this year’s Kentucky Derby. She declined.

“Since announcing his run for mayor, Mayor Greenberg has been very vocal about bringing another professional sports franchise to Louisville, and we believe the WNBA would be a great fit for this city, our fans, and fans of women’s basketball everywhere,” Greenberg’s Press Secretary Kevin Trager said in a statement to BetKentucky Monday. “Mayor Greenberg and Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Pat Mulloy are eager to pursue this opportunity going forward.”

The city also has reasons why it can stand out from the pack, and it’s part of the message Greenberg and Mulloy hope they can get across.

First, Louisville is home to a major women’s professional sports team. Racing Louisville of the NWSL, and that squad has more than held its own attendance-wise as it competes with teams from larger metros.

Second, unlike nearly all the cities on the list, Louisville is a strong women’s basketball market. The Louisville Cardinals have made it to the NCAA Women’s Tournament Elite Eight or Final Four in each of the last five tournaments, and the team has finished in the top five nationally for attendance in each of the last 13 seasons. The Cards averaged 8,779 per game this past season at the KFC Yum Center, an NBA-ready arena home to both UofL’s men’s and women’s teams. That’s better than nine WNBA teams are drawing this season, though the ticket price is somewhat higher at the pro level, depending on the team.

Whenever the WNBA makes its announcement, it’s likely Louisville won’t hear its name called, but this is a town where longshots sometimes come through, so expect city leaders to keep pitching the idea for as long as possible. 

In the meantime, will be your home for the best Kentucky sportsbook promo codes as soon as they are available in the Bluegrass State.



Steve is an accomplished, award-winning reporter with more than 20 years of experience covering gaming, sports, politics and business. He has written for the Associated Press, Reuters, The Louisville Courier Journal, The Center Square and numerous other publications. Based in Louisville, Ky., Steve has covered the expansion of sports betting in the U.S. and other gaming matters.

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