On Friday, at the OVO Athletic Centre in Toronto, basketball players from the Minnesota Lynx could be seen practicing hard, gearing up to make history.
Come Saturday, this team and their opponents, the Chicago Sky, will face off at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto for the first-ever WNBA game to be played on Canadian soil.
“This is a historic moment for Canada,” says Leah MacNab, managing director of NBA Canada, a moment that is really a nod to the increase in popularity of women’s basketball over the last several years.
“In particular, in the last three years we’ve seen a 95 per cent increase in broadcast viewership,” said MacNab. “We’ve seen merchandise sales increase as well as engagement on social media, so we really felt that now is the time to introduce fans to the live experience.”
And it’s more than just fun and games — it’s a test for the league to see how much of an appetite there is in Metro Toronto to support a WNBA franchise. It’s already off to a great start, as tickets for Saturday’s 4 p.m. game sold out – nearly 20 thousand of them.
“We’ve seen from fan surveys that our NBA fans are very interested in the WNBA, but here in Canada, they don’t know a lot about it,” said MacNab. “So we really look at this as a way to celebrate the female athletes, to put them on the same stage as the men and to really ignite interest in the WNBA.”
When the Lynx take to the hardcourt on Saturday, there may be a familiar face in the lineup for Canadian fans; Chatham Ontario’s Bridget Carleton is in her fourth year playing for the team, and the power forward says it’s good to be home, a full circle moment.
“It’s pretty surreal,” said Carleton at a press conference ahead of practice at the OVO Athletic Centre. “Growing up, you never imagine the WNBA associated with Canada at all, so to be a part of this game is super special.”
MacNab agrees that Saturday’s game is monumental on several levels.
“It’s an incredible moment for our fans, especially young boys and girls, to see something that they may not have ever seen live before, which is women (playing) to a sold-out Scotiabank Arena,” said MacNab.