Hoop Dreams: Support solidifies for an Oakland WNBA team

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NOTHING BUT NET ‘Oakland is at the epicenter of the social justice movement,’ said AASEG spokesperson Ray Bobbit, ‘and our goals align perfectly.’

The news for professional sports fans in Oakland and the East Bay hasn’t been good for the last few years. The Raiders moved to Las Vegas in 2019. The Warriors forsook the Oakland Arena for San Francisco prior to the 2019–2020 season. The A’s are openly flirting with another defection, also to Vegas.

But there may very well be hoops on the horizon.

On June 18, the African American Sports & Entertainment Group announced it had “cleared a major hurdle” in its goal of purchasing a 50% interest in the Oakland Coliseum Complex. The Oakland city council rules committee voted to advance the AASEG “term sheet” to a full city council vote before the summer recess.

“Awarding Oakland’s largest public land site for development to an Oakland-based African American Development Group would be a first in the city’s 169-year history,” the AASEG pointed out during the announcement. A major part of the proposal is bringing a WNBA team to the city.

Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan has advocated for just such a move for years. “Oakland has the location, history and demographics to support a highly successful WNBA team, a great fan base and a welcoming community,” she said via text. “We also have an available basketball arena that’s easy to get to from throughout the greater region.”

Ray Bobbitt, AASEG spokesperson and key executive, said the group made contact with the WNBA several months ago, sending them a bid that noted the “void” in Oakland’s professional sports profile, the compatible demographics, the accessibility of the site and the fact that the arena has been well maintained.

“If everything falls into place perfectly, the goal would be to have a team playing next year,” he said, acknowledging that negotiations and implementation may take longer.

An Oakland team would be an expansion franchise, further strengthening the whole league. Kaplan emphasized it would be a piece of a much-larger vision for East Oakland. In an op-ed published two years ago, she made the case for using the Coliseum as a keystone for new housing, a large-scale hotel and conference facilities, retail, restaurant and entertainment development, new, quality jobs, protection from displacement for local residents—and bringing a WNBA team to the arena. As Kaplan is now a board member of the Oakland-Alameda Joint Powers Commission, which oversees the arena, she said “I am … able to work more directly to help make it happen.”

The AASEG is also committed to a “woman-led ownership group,” Bobbitt said. Shonda Scott, CEO of Oakland’s 360 Total Concept, a management consulting firm, is leading the project to assemble the group, he said. 

As Bobbitt agreed, “woman-led” is not a guarantee that team and management are on the same page. The 2020 elections debacle in Georgia, in which Atlanta Dream players openly criticized the team’s co-owner, former Sen. Kelly Loeffler, over her comments on the Black Lives Matter movement as players were supporting African American candidate Raphael Warnock, eventually forced Loeffler and her partners to sell the team.

But that would not happen in Oakland, Bobbitt said. “Oakland is at the epicenter of the social justice movement, and our goals align perfectly.”  That concept was prominently featured in the proposal submitted to the WNBA.

The proposal also emphasized existing statistics showing the viability of the Oakland/East market. “The Bay Area has the fourth-highest number of WNBA fans among U.S. markets without a WNBA team. The Bay Area has 418,816 WNBA fans, higher than eight markets with a WNBA team. More than a half million Bay Area market adults play basketball. The Bay Area ranks in the top 30 markets in household delivery for the 2009 WNBA Regular Season,” statistics compiled in 2019 by Scarborough Marketing state.

Yet another local indicator pointing to the potential success of the team are the many popular and successful women’s high school and college teams in the area, Bobbitt said. Stanford is the current NCAA champion, he noted, and there is already solid support for girls’ and women’s sports in the community.

Apparently the community is in support as well. Since the June 18 public announcement, “We’ve had a great response from the public,” Bobbitt said, citing calls, emails, texts and favorable mentions on social media.

Now East Bay fans are just waiting for the first tip-off.