Warriors' goal for WNBA expansion team: 'We want to be the best'

ByAlexa Philippou ESPN logo
Monday, October 9, 2023

LAS VEGAS -- Golden State Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob confidently proclaimed on Thursday when their new WNBA franchise was announced that the organization will bring home a championship within its first five years, echoing a promise he made Warriors fans when he bought the organization in 2010.

The declaration might have seemed bold, but it was nonetheless a clear indicator of how the Warriors see their endeavor into the WNBA realm: "We're not just doing this -- we want to be the best. We want to be the best on the court, we want to be the best off the court," Warriors president and COO Brandon Schneider told ESPN Sunday in Las Vegas before Game 1 of the WNBA Finals.

"We're always going to strive to be the best in everything that we do, and I think putting that stake in the ground and saying, 'Look, this is what we want to do,' I think will set the tone for the team as it comes together,"Schneider said.

Fast-forward a decade-plus and Lacob's initial 2010 promise was fulfilled big-time: The Warriors -- who prior to 2012-13 missed the playoffs 17 of the previous 18 seasons -- have won four championships and appeared in the NBA Finals another two times since Lacob and Peter Guber acquired the team in 2010. Their WNBA team will look to follow suit -- at least in some way, shape or form -- when it begins competing in 2025.

Schneider said the Warriors had a vision of bringing basketball to the Bay Area for "365" dating back to 2010 -- part of that interest stemmed from Lacob's previous role as an owner/investor in the short-lived ABL. But all parties had to figure out when would be the best time to pull the trigger. As both the WNBA and Warriors waited until the COVID-19 pandemic was in the rearview mirror, talks about bringing the WNBA back to the Bay Area as the league's 13th franchise picked up steam over the last year or two, Schneider said. (The Sacramento Monarchs were one of the league's original franchises and won a championship in 2005 but folded in 2009.) They hope to tap into not just the existing NBA fanbase in the region, but women's basketball fanbases for Stanford and Cal as well.

"I think they and us realized pretty early on that we would eventually have a team," Schneider said, "it was just figuring out when's the right time to do it."

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert has spoken about the importance of finding the right new owners to bring into the league during such a critical time in its development, and it's easy to see why they view the Warriors as just that. Their WNBA team will use NBA-grade facilities, playing at the renowned Chase Center -- which opened in 2019 -- and training at the Warriors' former practice facility in Oakland.

The Warriors boast the highest valuation of any NBA franchise at $7 billion and intend to use that "Warriors DNA," Schneider said, to "infuse what we've learned, the way we do things, into that W staff that we're going to build." Lacob already says he believes the WNBA team can be No. 1 in revenue in the league.

"The Warriors have proven excellence,"Engelbert said told reporters Sunday. "It's an ideal fit for our newest, our 13th WNBA franchise, and to have one of the most successful and valuable franchises in all of sports investing in the WNBA shows just how much people want to be involved in the league."

Engelbert added: "Looking at demographics and psychographics and number of Fortune 500 and Russell 1000 companies in the arena situation and practice facilities and current WNBA viewership and fandom, current women's NCAA viewership, and it's amazing how some cities rise to the top of the list, and certainly the Bay Area rose to the top of that list on almost every metric."

The Warriors have been eager to see the league's transformation in recent years, Schneider says, with WNBA attendance, viewership and merchandise sales all increasing, as well as the overall momentum with women's sports. He sees areas where that all can translate from a business standpoint even more, and he hopes the Warriors franchise can be "part of propelling the business to catch up to the overall success that we're seeing in all those metrics, and ultimately being a big part of the growth of the WNBA and even the broader ecosystem of women's sports."

The league's media rights deal with ESPN is up in 2025, while Engelbert has touted the role of six "Changemakers" in helping catalyze the business transformation of the league.

Schneider says the Warriors have already had potential distribution partners reach out, as well as companies currently partnered with the NBA team, who want to be involved with their WNBA counterpart. Signs are pointing in the right direction too in terms of ticket sales: The team began accepting deposits for season tickets at 10 a.m. PT last Thursday and they received 2,000 deposits in the first five hours.

Golden State still needs to finalize the new team's name in the coming months. They will then work to fill out the organization's staff. Schneider said the W franchise will have a "dedicated team but some shared services" with the NBA staff -- with major hires to be made for team president, general manager and coach. Engelbert said an expansion draft would likely happen at the end of 2024.

"2025 sounds like it's a long way from now, but there's a lot to do between now and then," Schneider said.