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The bid to bring a WNBA franchise to Oakland took a critical step forward Thursday, as the city formally announced it reached a deal with the group leading the expansion effort for exclusive negotiating rights on its half of the Coliseum site.
Alana Beard, front woman of the African American Sports and Entertainment Group, is close to completing and submitting the proposal to the WNBA. The league previously had stated an intent to move forward with expansion in December, but delayed that into this year.
"Alana is leading that project," said Ray Bobbitt, an East Bay native who is head of the Black-owned team of developers. "She is getting to a point where there could be a proposal submitted soon. The league was initially saying December of last year, but now that has been expanded out, and I think that they've changed the dynamic of the expansion process."
Beard, a former WNBA player, is using the new timeline as an opportunity to complete some final steps securing infrastructure. As of Thursday, the league had not offered clarity on the expansion timeline, a source involved in the expansion efforts told The Chronicle.
The Bay Area has long been speculated as a potential expansion location. Though Oakland is hopeful, there is still a long way to go to land a team, and AASEG figures to face local competition: The Golden State Warriors also have shown interest in bringing a WNBA franchise to Chase Center.
Sources with direct knowledge of expansion negotiations told The Chronicle the league was considering adding anywhere up to four teams in the next expansion round, around the same time the next media-rights deal would be in place.
AASEG's exclusive deal with the city was reached last week and will cost the developer a $200,000-per-year fee, 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 Oakland Tech athletic director Alexis Gray-Lawson, a former Cal and WNBA guard who has been advocating to bring a team to Oakland and spoke at Thursday's news conference. "There are a bunch of kids here who aspire to be WNBA players, and this community is trying to bring that to them."
Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, who was at Thursday's event, led a resolution in September to publicly support bringing a WNBA team to the city.
AASEG also confirmed on Thursday that Nancy Lieberman, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will support the group's bid.
As the Oakland effort progresses, the dynamics of WNBA expansion also continue to evolve and could be influenced by developments in the National Women's Soccer League.
The NWSL board recently voted to approve the Bay Area, Boston and Utah expansion bids, and though sources told The Chronicle the process is not yet final, the reported $50 million expansion fees for the Bay Area and Boston could have an effect on the WNBA's market.
WNBA teams consistently have sold for about $10 million to $15 million, according to public records, though that number will not be near what the league is expecting to receive in expansion fees this time.
Both Toronto and Philadelphia are candidates for expansion as well, though basketball figures have hinted at the Bay Area being a future destination for the league.
"Certainly Bay Area, generally, including Oakland or San Francisco, is certainly on our list, high on our list," WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told reporters in September. "The W is everywhere right now. But such a great market out there, given women's college basketball (is) very popular in the Bay Area. Yes, that's definitely on the list."
The Warriors have yet to formally announce a bid to bring a WNBA franchise to Chase Center, with a spokesperson telling The Chronicle in January, "As we have stated for a quite some time, we'd be interested in a team when the time and economics are right."
The 12-team WNBA has not added an expansion franchise since the Atlanta Dream in 2008.
In addition to a WNBA tenant at the Coliseum site, AASEG is hoping to add housing, a convention center, a hotel, restaurants and an outdoor amphitheater for youth sports and educational programs in a project it previously estimated would cost more than $5 billion.
Any plan to redevelop the site requires approval from the Oakland Athletics, who are a joint owner of the property and have a lease there until 2024 for home games. The A's bought half of the Coliseum site from Alameda County in 2019. They are pursuing a ballpark at Howard Terminal.
Marisa Ingemi is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected]
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