WNBA Expansion Into Philadelphia Could Give Big Assist to PA Sportsbooks During Summer Lull

Posted By Derek Helling on July 14, 2021 - Last Updated on July 15, 2021

One of the regular challenges that Pennsylvania sportsbooks face is the summer lull. Those weeks between when the NBA and NHL postseasons end to when the NFL regular-season begins can bring dramatic drops in both bets and handle. A possible solution to the problem is a Philadelphia WNBA team.

The WNBA has never been more valuable as a betting and commercial product. How valuable it is for PA will hinge on the league’s presence in the state. There are a lot of moving parts to WNBA expansion, including into Philadelphia.

How much could a Philadelphia WNBA team be worth to Pennsylvania sportsbooks?

The greatest value of WNBA games from a betting perspective are their places on the calendar. The meat of the WNBA season happens when competition isn’t as robust. The only prominent North American team sports the WNBA has to compete with are MLB, MLS, and the NWSL. As far as wagering popularity goes, only MLB of those three is bigger than the WNBA.

Additionally, the WNBA has never drawn more handle and wagers. The fact that more of its games are available for a larger audience to view plays a huge role in the growth. Between Amazon Prime, CBS Sports, Disney’s channels (ABC and ESPN), Facebook, and Twitter, fans can currently access live feeds of WNBA games at unprecedented levels.

Part of the growth is due simply to the fact that more jurisdictions offer legal sports betting now. For example, BetMGM Sportsbook and William Hill Sportsbook are now active on a limited basis in Washington, DC, where the Washington Mystics play their home games.

As one would expect, greater availability has translated to greater engagement. For example, viewership of the first five regular-season games this year was up 74% as compared to the same block of the schedule in 2020. Betting activity has increased right in line with that trend.

Lack of an in-state team hasn’t deterred PA bettors

Just how much have bettors taken to WNBA events? A spokesperson for Rush Street Interactive (which operates BetRivers Sportsbook in PA), told PlayPennsylvania that the sportsbook’s handle on WNBA events in PA is up 80% year-over-year. Naturally, a local presence in the state would dramatically improve interest in the WNBA.

Rush Street Gaming COO Mattias Stetz elaborated on that point.

“Philadelphia’s rich basketball tradition would seemingly create an ideal landing spot for a potential new WNBA franchise, and judging from the steady rise in WNBA betting interest we’ve seen from our Pennsylvania clients, a Philly franchise would undoubtedly only further accelerate those trends. We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on any developments.”

Darren Darby, BetMGM Sports Trader added:

“We have seen that as BetMGM enters new states the number of tickets and handle on local teams increases. If Philadelphia were to get an WNBA team we would expect to see more action on the sport.”

So, what are the chances of the WNBA actually expanding into Philadelphia in the near future? That’s a difficult situation to read.

WNBA expansion isn’t necessarily imminent

As is usually the case when it comes to expansion matters, the league is keeping any conversation on the subject pretty limited. League officials haven’t practiced absolute radio silence, though.

In April, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert addressed the question:

“It’s certainly on the list of things that I’ve been thinking about down the road,” Engelbert commented. “It is interesting to note how competitive and how deep the talent in the league is. And so it’s certainly something that as we’ve come out of this pandemic hopefully next year that we’ll prepare to start talking about. I think if we have a very successful season this year, this time next year we can certainly start talking about what expansion would look like, how many [additional teams], and the timeframe over which that would occur.”

Would Philadelphia be a site for one of those teams? It’s certainly proven to be a viable market for basketball. The Philadelphia 76ers enjoy enormous popularity throughout the region. A Philly team could also produce a natural rivalry with the New York Liberty.

There is no lack of venues for a potential WNBA team in Philadelphia, either. These include a new development in the Schuylkill Yards near the 30th St Station and Drexel University, space near the Parx Casino in Bensalem, and even in King of Prussia or Willow Grove.

Existing venues that could act as homes include Hagan Arena, Jake Nevin Field House, Liacouras Center, and, of course, the Wells Fargo Center. Of equal importance to having an appropriate venue is having appropriate investors. Some Philadelphians might already be working on that.

The quiet push to bring the WNBA to Philadelphia

In March, WNBA player Natasha Cloud said that individuals in Philadelphia have been working on a proposal for the league to expand into Philadelphia for nearly two years. She emphasized that the league is not involved in that effort.

“It’s not necessarily a secret … we are trying to get a Philly team,” Cloud stated. “Put a little pressure, not only on the city but on the [WNBA], too. For us to progress, our league needs to expand. We have to have more than 144 jobs.”

A petition to bring the WNBA to Philadelphia is also circulating online. If the efforts of that petition and/or Cloud’s group pay off in the future, it will be a welcome development for PA sports betting apps. Local WNBA games would only help them keep customers engaged during the summer.

Lead photo: Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud said that some individuals in Philadelphia are working to get the WNBA to expand to there.  Photo Daniel Kucin Jr./AP.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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