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

Image source, fake images

Screenshot, Toronto WNBA team to begin play in 2026

  • Author, Nadine Yusif
  • Role, bbc news
  • Reporting from toronto

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

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

The launch was celebrated at a news conference in the city on Thursday, attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow and rap superstar Drake, an ambassador for the city’s NBA team.

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

It is also a monumental moment for women’s sports in the country, especially considering that basketball was invented by a Canadian.

The team, which will begin play in 2026, has not yet been named.

But people are already talking about its name and marketing, and the message the team will send to Canada and the world with its brand.

On social media, one user suggested the Toronto Dragons, who were on the Raptors’ short list of names.

The Toronto Aurora was introduced by CBC reporter Tom Harrington, as a nod to the Northern Lights.

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

Larry Tanenbaum, the Toronto businessman who received the city’s WNBA franchise for C$50 million (US$36.5 million; £28.7 million), told the Associated Press that the team will take its time to choose a name and “will solicit public input.”

For Misty Meeks, a public relations expert at NATIONAL, a Canada-based marketing firm, the team name should fit the culture of the time, but also “grow and evolve over time and remain relevant.”

It should also capitalize on the importance of being Canada’s first WNBA team, she said.

“You’re not just launching a new team, you’re opening the playing field for women’s sports in Canada, and that’s a huge effort,” Ms Meeks told the BBC.

“It’s about defending something much more than just a team.”

Image source, fake images

Screenshot, Thursday’s WNBA announcement was attended by prominent Canadian leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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

Tom O’Grady, who was the first creative director of the National Basketball Association (NBA) at the time, recalled 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, had also just won two consecutive championships.

Because of this, O’Grady said the Raptors’ marketing team focused on breaking new ground. They would find a unique name and dress their players in a color that strayed from the traditional blue worn by the city’s hockey and baseball teams.

They also wanted to attract the city’s younger fans.

At the time, dinosaurs were all the rage thanks to the 1993 global hit Jurassic Park. This is how the name Raptors was born.

“It was perfect for what we were trying to do,” O’Grady said. He appealed to kids and positioned the Toronto Raptors as an international 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.

In addition to the Raptors, other nicknames included the Bobcats, Beavers and Hogs, a nod to Toronto’s “Hogtown” nickname.

O’Grady admitted that a couple of other names received more votes than the Raptors.

“But I think people didn’t understand it, there were no images or logos (back then),” he said.

Many would say that 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 became a huge success, winning a championship in 2019 and inspiring a new generation of Canadians to take up the sport.

Image source, fake images

Screenshot, NBA All-Star player Tracy McGrady wearing the original Toronto Raptors jersey in her 1997 rookie photo shoot.

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

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

The name of Houston’s WNBA team became the Comets, inspired by the Houston Rockets, and the Sacramento team was called the Monarchs, after the Sacramento Kings.

One of the WNBA’s newest franchises, the Golden State Valkyries, is apparently a copy of the Golden State Warriors, who play in the same stadium.

But O’Grady said the Toronto team has a chance to forge its own identity, in part because they will play in a different venue than the Raptors, one 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 the brother team anymore. We’re alone,’” she said.

Thursday’s announcement offered some clues about the direction of the brand, as Tanenbaum commented that the franchise will be “Canada’s team.”

“While we will be based 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, Meeks said he hopes the franchise will be a hit embraced by fans and sponsors alike.

“I think now is the time,” he said.

And with the recent success women’s basketball has had, Ms. Meeks added that she has “high hopes that the WNBA will be very well received” both in Toronto and across the country.

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