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What’s next for Toronto’s new WNBA team?

What’s next for Toronto’s new WNBA team?

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, Toronto’s WNBA team is scheduled to begin play in 2026

  • author, Nadine Youssef
  • Role, BBC News
  • Report from toronto

“The next great moment in Canadian sports history begins today.”

These remarks were uttered in a video that officially announced that Toronto will be home to the newest Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) franchise.

The launch was celebrated at a press conference in the city on Thursday, attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chao, and rap star Drake, who is an ambassador for the city’s basketball team.

The new franchise will be the WNBA’s 14th — and the league’s first expansion outside the United States.

It’s also a historic moment for women’s sports in the country, especially since basketball was invented by a Canadian.

The team, which is scheduled to begin play in 2026, has not yet been named.

But people are already starting to talk about the company’s name and marketing, and what message the team will send to Canada and the world with its brand.

On social media, one user suggested the name Toronto Dragons, which was on the short list of team names for the Raptors.

The Toronto Aurora was floated by CBC reporter Tom Harrington, as a reference to the northern lights.

Others suggested the Northstars, or Huskies, the name of a historic Toronto basketball team that preceded the Raptors and was disbanded in 1947 after just one season.

For Misty Meeks, a public relations expert at NATIONAL, a Canadian-based marketing firm, the team’s name must fit the culture of the time, but it must “grow and evolve over time and continue to stay relevant.”

She said he should also capitalize on the importance of being Canada’s first WNBA team.

“You’re not only launching a new team, you’re opening up women’s sports in Canada, which is a huge endeavor,” Meeks told the BBC.

“It’s about standing up for something much more than just a team.”

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, The WNBA’s announcement on Thursday was attended by prominent Canadian leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Exactly 30 years ago, the city was tasked with naming a brand new basketball team: the Toronto Raptors.

Tom O’Grady, who was the NBA’s first creative director at the time, recalls that it was “a very difficult task.”

“You have to remember that (in the early 1990s), the Maple Leafs were a religion in Toronto sports at that time,” he told the BBC, referring to the ice hockey team.

“It was hockey and then everything else.”

The city’s baseball team – the Toronto Blue Jays – was also coming off two straight championship wins.

For that reason, Mr. O’Grady said the Raptors’ marketing team was focused on breaking new ground. They will find a unique name, and dress their players in a color that strays from the traditional blue worn by the city’s hockey and baseball teams.

They also wanted to attract younger fans in the city.

“It was perfect for what we were trying to do,” Mr. O’Grady said. It appealed to kids and positioned the Toronto Raptors as a global brand.

“Everyone loves dinosaurs.”

The marketing team still wanted to test the name and engage fans by holding a contest, where Torontonians could vote for their favorite name from a list of 10 names.

Besides the Raptors, other nicknames included the Bobcats, Beavers, and Hogs – a reference to Toronto’s “Hogtown” nickname.

Mr. O’Grady acknowledged that two other names received more votes than the Raptors.

He added: “But I think people did not understand it. There were no pictures or slogans (then).”

Many would argue that Mr. O’Grady and the NBA made the right decision.

While some mocked the Toronto Raptors’ original purple and red jerseys at the time, the team has been a huge success, winning a championship in 2019 and inspiring a new generation of Canadians to take up the sport.

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady wearing an authentic Toronto Raptors jersey in his 1997 photo shoot

Mr. O’Grady was also instrumental in launching the first eight original WNBA teams.

At the time, he said, the focus was on “sister franchise” branding of existing men’s basketball teams, as the teams often played on the same court.

Houston’s WNBA team became the Comets – inspired by the Houston Rockets, and the Sacramento team was named the Monarchs, after the Sacramento Kings.

But Mr. O’Grady said the Toronto team has a chance to create its own identity, in part because they will play in a different venue than the Raptors — a venue where the city’s professional women’s hockey team also hosts its games.

“I think you want to make a statement that says, ‘We’re not just a brother team anymore. “We stand alone,” he said.

Thursday’s announcement provided some clues about the direction of the brand, with Mr. Tannenbaum noting that the franchise will be “Team Canada.”

“While our home base will be here in Toronto, we will be playing games in Vancouver and Montreal throughout the season, uniting the country behind our franchise,” he said.

Whatever name the team chooses, Ms. Meeks said she hopes the franchise will be a success embraced by both fans and sponsors.

“I think the time is now,” she said.

With the recent success of women’s basketball, Ms. Meeks added that she has “high hopes that the Women’s Basketball Association will be very well received” both in Toronto and across the country.