Oakland brings the WNBA a step closer with exclusive negotiating rights to the Coliseum site

Alana Bird, First Lady of the American Sports and Entertainment Group, is about to complete and submit the proposal to the WNBA. The league previously announced its intention to move forward with the expansion in December, but delayed doing so until 2023.

“Alana is leading this project,” said Ray Bobbitt, an East Bay native and lead of the Black-owned developer team. “It’s getting to a point where a proposal can be made soon. The league was initially announcing December of last year, but now that’s been expanded, and I think they’ve changed the dynamic of the expansion process.”

Beard, a former WNBA player, is using the new schedule as an opportunity to complete some final steps to secure the infrastructure. As of Thursday, the league had not provided any clarification on the expansion timeline, a source involved in the expansion effort told The Chronicle.

The Bay Area has long been speculated as a potential expansion site, between the Golden State Warriors showing interest and a public campaign from AASEG.

The league is now considering adding up to four teams anywhere in the next expansion round, around the same time the next media rights agreement will be in effect, sources familiar with expansion negotiations told The Chronicle.

AASEG’s exclusive deal with the city was reached last week and will cost the developer $200,000 in fees annually, plus $2.5 million in one-time funds to cover staff time. Oakland originally agreed to negotiate with AASEG in November 2021.

“This is a great opportunity for young people in the community,” said former WNBA player and current Oakland Tech athletic director Alexis Gray-Lawson, who has been advocating bringing a team to Oakland and speaking to the press Thursday. “There is a group of kids here who aspire to be WNBA players, and this community is trying to give that to them.”

Oakland Deputy Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, who was in the press Thursday, spearheaded a resolution in September to support bringing a WNBA team to the city.

AASEG also confirmed Thursday that Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman will support the group’s bid.

As Oakland’s efforts progress, the dynamics of WNBA expansion continue to evolve and could be affected by developments in the National Women’s Soccer League.

The NWSL Board of Directors recently voted to approve Bay Area, Boston and Utah expansion bids, and although sources tell The Chronicle the process isn’t final yet, the $50 million expansion fee for the Bay Area and Boston could have an impact on the WNBA market.

WNBA teams have consistently sold between $10 million and $15 million, according to public records, though that number won’t be anywhere near what the league expects to get in expansion fees this time around.

Toronto and Philadelphia remain expansion candidates as well, though basketball figures have continually hinted that the Bay Area is a future destination for the league.

“Definitely the Bay Area, in general, including Oakland or San Francisco, is definitely on our list, at the top of our list,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told reporters in September. “…W is everywhere now. But such a great market there given that (women’s) college basketball is so popular in the Bay Area. Yeah, that’s definitely on the list.”

The Warriors have not officially announced a bid to bring a WNBA franchise to Chase Center, with a spokesperson for The Chronicle saying in January, “As we’ve said for some time, we’ll be interested in a team when the time is right and the economy is right.”

The 12-team WNBA has not added an expansion franchise since the Atlanta Dream in 2008.

In addition to the WNBA tenant at the Coliseum site, AASEG hopes to add a residence, conference center, hotel, restaurants, and an outdoor amphitheater for youth sports and educational programs in a project previously estimated to cost more than $5 billion.

Any plan to redevelop the site requires approval from the Oakland Athletics, who own co-ownership of the property and hold a lease there through 2024 for home games. The A’s purchased half of the Coliseum site from Alameda County in 2019. They are seeking a new ballpark in Howard Terminal.

Marisa Engieme is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: marisa.ingemi@sfchronicle.com

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