Fans excited to see WNBA tip off at Rogers Place in Edmonton

Click to play video: 'WNBA game in Canada one part of the rise of women’s sports'
WNBA game in Canada one part of the rise of women’s sports
WATCH: For just the second time in Canadian history, the WNBA tips off in our country. It's a chance to showcase the league, its stars, but more importantly, inspire a generation of young fans, who are seeing a shift in women's sport. Jasmine King reports – May 4, 2024

Edmonton fans are eagerly awaiting Saturday’s historic match that will see the Los Angeles Sparks take on the Seattle Storm in a pre-season game for only the second time on Canadian soil.

The game is meant to showcase the league and its stars in hopes of inspiring a new generation of fans.

The day started with over 70 young basketball fans participating in an all-women-led basketball skills clinic for kids aged 12 to 17 at the MacEwan University Sport & Wellness Centre.

“It’s really great to see everyone and interact,” said Freda Okolie, a student at Archbishop O’Leary High School. “We appreciate it, we love it. We want them here, we want to be a part of it.”

“We want more opportunities for basketball in Alberta,” said Emerald Nnani, a student at St. Cecilia Elementary. “We want more of the WNBA coming here and even the NBA, not just Toronto.”

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Canada’s Kia Nurse, who plays guard for the Los Angeles Sparks, shared words of encouragement with her young fans.

“Every time you’re in the gym, take it as an opportunity to get better, to learn, but to also have fun,” Nurse said.

Nurse averaged 5.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 40 games for the Storm last season.

Participants also got to learn first-hand from WNBA legend Tammy Sutton-Brown.

“It’s not anything that I grew up with and so I love seeing those who are 11,12, 13, 14, taking advantage and getting this opportunity because it does bring them really close to the game,” Sutton-Brown said.

The inaugural WNBA Canada Game last season saw the Chicago Sky beat the Minnesota Lynx in front of a sold-out crowd in Toronto. That pre-season game set records for broadcast viewership, attendance and merchandise sales in Canada.

“We’re building the fan base here. Who knows? We might leave with 100 more fans than we did before and that’s the beauty of sports,” said Jewell Loyd, Seattle Storm guard. “No matter where you come from, no matter where you are, you’re able to connect through sports.”

“The fact that there’s a generation of kids who could grow up in Canada with women’s professional sports being just a normal thing on our screens, in our cities, is hugely exciting,” Loyd said.

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Toronto is one of the cities that is under consideration for WNBA expansion if the right ownership group can be found. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said on a conference call that Golden State would be the only expansion team for 2025, but that the league was hoping for more franchises for the 2026 season.

This will be the fourth WNBA pre-season game outside of the U.S. There were also games in Manchester, England, in 2011, and Monterrey, Mexico, in 2004.

— with files from the Canadian Press

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