WNBA expected to expand to Eugene

The Oregonian and The Athletic reported this week that Portland has made the shortlist of possible expansion cities for the WNBA, along with Oakland, Nashville, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Toronto. I’m saying Portland got its chance 20 years ago. Bring the WNBA to Eugene, where Phil Knight can buy a professional basketball team for a dime on the dollar.

Knight has already built an arena of the right size here. Kelly Graves developed our appetite for women’s basketball. Sabrina Ionescu is building her superstar career. Eugene deserves his chance.

The fire only lasted three years in Portland. In 2002, the NBA sold the league to local franchise owners, but Portland could not find a buyer, so the team folded.

Portland has grown into a bigger city since then, but with smaller ambitions. For many, it’s become an angry, dirty place where the future doesn’t look so bright. Housing prices, traffic, homelessness and a dysfunctional government have stifled the city for decades. Today, these issues divide and decay the city.

Eugene, on the other hand, finds his moment in the sun. Hayward Field has been granted pilgrimage status. The waterfront finally welcomes residents. Park Blocks anchor an urban renaissance. Housing costs are high, except when compared to anywhere else. And traffic congestion is limited to a few hotspots during certain hours.

In other words, Eugene feels a lot like Portland a few decades ago – up, hopeful, coming into its own. A professional sports franchise with a national audience in Eugene? It’s too early, that is to say, just enough. Ambition is always dressed for tomorrow, not today.

In related news, Knight reportedly made an unsolicited offer to buy the Portland Trailblazers for $2 billion, but was rebuffed by current owners. “An offer has been made by Phil Knight,” the Blazers said in the statement. “The team is still not for sale.”

Buying a WNBA franchise for Eugene would cost Uncle Phil much less, leaving plenty of money for another expansion around Matthew Knight Arena, complete with a rooftop helipad for a certain commuter.

Matthew Knight Arena has a seating capacity of 12,364. The Seattle Storm leads the WNBA with 10,553 attendance per game. (None of the other 11 teams in the league averaged 7,000.) The Oregon Ducks for Ionescu’s final season averaged 10,852.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer,” Graves told The Oregonian. “There is an appreciation for women’s sports in the North West. Many people know and love women’s basketball in this area.

The Blazers released a statement of support: “We embrace all those whose mission it is to grow basketball in our region…. Oregon has an excellent track record in embracing and promoting women’s sports from authentic and meaningful way, and it’s no surprise to us that there might be interest in bringing a WNBA team to market.

“Oregon has a great record” – those words sound like code to me. Thousands of track and field fans will be forced to commute from Portland during Oregon22 next month because there aren’t enough hotel rooms for all the fans planning to attend. Eugene resolved this dilemma by adopting a statewide goal for the event.

We forget that we are a small state. Eugene is close to the center of its populated areas. Fans may complain about having to drive two hours to see their favorite team, forgetting that it can take just as long to get to New York from New Jersey.

Oregon’s best home for a new WNBA franchise is here in Eugene. We are dressed for tomorrow.

Don Kahle ([email protected]) writes a column every Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

Comments are closed.