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Eugene Should Recruit a WNBA Team

April 26th, 2019 by dk

Is Eugene ready to support another professional sport franchise? Yes, I think so. Our longtime support of the Eugene Emeralds has shown there’s a professional sports audience here. Lane United Football Club has committed to six home soccer matches at the rebuilt Civic Park, as soon as it becomes available.

The University of Oregon’s recent success in football, softball, and basketball has added to the city’s legendary reputation for hosting some of the best track meets on the planet. Hosting the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) World Championships in 2021, we expect our reimagined Hayward Field will captivate a worldwide audience.

Eugene’s bona fides for hosting sporting events are unquestioned, but do you notice anything missing from our current offerings? Only the Emeralds host more than a half dozen annual competitions. Only Lane United fields a team that plays the best competition available. Only some University of Oregon teams play indoors, or feature women athletes.

What’s missing represents an opportunity.

Eugene should gather a group of investors ready to relocate a WNBA franchise to Eugene in 2020. The professional women’s basketball currently has 12 teams. They play a regular season of 34 games through the summer. The closest franchises are in Las Vegas and Seattle.

Portland had a team, but it folded after only three seasons. Back then, each team was owned by the same local NBA owner, but WNBA teams are now independently owned. Oregon hasn’t had a professional women’s team to root for since 2002.

Some of the most successful WNBA franchises are not in major cities. If you’ve never heard of Uncasville, Connecticut, then you probably don’t know the name Geno Auriemma either. But if you’ve followed women’s basketball, you know what juggernaut teams — and a devoted fanbase — Auriemma has built at the University of Connecticut, 35 miles north of Uncasville.

Synergies with collegiate competition have proven more reliable than with local NBA teams. The women play the game a bit differently. Their fans would say it’s better.

Is UO Head Coach Kelly Graves building something comparable to Auriemma’s success here in Eugene? It’s not too soon to begin planning for it. The Oregon Ducks have built the largest fan base in the PAC-12, with room to grow inside the Matthew Knight Arena.

When Sabrina Ionescu announced she would not leave school a year early to pursue her career as a professional player in the WNBA, she made her motivations as clear as a pass off the pick-and-roll. She remains devoted Graves’s vision when he recruited her. She could come to Eugene and help build a program and culture that would continue long after her four years.

That’s the “unfinished business” she decided she couldn’t walk away from — even though she was projected to be the No. 1 pick in this year’s WNBA draft. We can extend the success she’s brought to this town and her sport by moving a WNBA franchise here.

We want to watch her and some of her teammates play professionally, and then those she has inspired, in the sport — and town — they love.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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