Originally created 04/23/98

WNBA expands to Orlando, Minnesota



NEW YORK -- Before the WNBA even begins its second season, the league has expanded for a second time.

The WNBA announced Wednesday that it will add franchises in Minnesota and Orlando, bringing the league to 12 teams, beginning in the 1999 season.

"This broadens our geographic reach to two new regions," league president Val Ackerman said. "The tremendous potential fan support will only solidify the long-term foundation created by the 10 existing markets."

The WNBA, owned and operated by the 29 NBA teams, begins its second season on June 11 with new franchises in Detroit and Washington.

The addition of the two newest teams, which will be operated by the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Orlando Magic, is conditional on the sale of 5,000 season tickets by Sept. 1.

"The excitement in this area from the first year of the league exceeded our expectations," Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said. "The interest was from people who are not necessarily our current season-ticket holders."

Orlando Magic president Bob Vander Weide says his team looks to capitalize on its proximity to tourist hot spots in central Florida.

"We will try to create an alliance with Disney and Universal, because they bring in a huge number of South American and European tourists in the summer," Vander Weide said. "We hope to have a couple of foreign players on the team to help attract those fans."

The rival ABL expanded earlier this month to Chicago and Nashville. Chicago, which was rumored to be a WNBA expansion site, is one of five NBA cities to have a team in the ABL and not the WNBA.

"Our decision was made independently of the ABL's," Ackerman said. "But it is to our benefit to have women's basketball in as many different cities as possible.

Ackerman said the league would like to eventually have teams in every NBA city, including the five ABL cities of Chicago, Denver, Seattle, Portland and Philadelphia.

Cities discussed as contenders for franchises in 2000 include Miami, Atlanta and Toronto, which are hoping to have new arenas for the 1999-2000 NBA season.

"We are bullish on expansion," Ackerman said. "As long as the interest remains high and the availability of great players is there, we will make the commitment to continue to march forward."

Orlando will join the Detroit Shock, Washington Mystics, Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers and New York Liberty in the league's Eastern Conference.

Minnesota will play in the West with the Houston Comets, Los Angeles Sparks, Phoenix Mercury, Sacramento Monarchs and Utah Starzz.

Nicknames and logos for the new teams are expected to be announced in a few months.