WNBA team coming to Dayton in 2026

April 1, 2024 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: The University of Dayton has announced that it has taken the next logical step in the Name Image Likeness competition for college athletes, acquiring an expansion franchise of the WNBA beginning in the 2026 season. Athletic Director Neil Sullivan says “call it the Catlin Clark effect, with a growing interest in women’s basketball, we already have an average draw for our Women’s program equaling that of 4 of the WNBA teams (Atlanta, Indiana, Washington and Dallas) and the Dayton Dragon’s have proved that there is a market for summer pro-sports in Dayton.”

With college teams now recruiting based on promised visibility for its star recruits, having a pro team operating out of the same arena brings new cachet to the Flyers basketball programs and facilities.

Sullivan continued “We have an amazing facility in Dayton that is underutilized in the summer, we’re a hotbed of basketball, and with our current WBB Coach’s connection to the WNBA things all started to fall into place last year. A discussion with our major donors thought that this could not only elevate both of our basketball programs and be a great recruiting tool.”

University of Dayton President Eric Spina was all in from the beginning of discussions, and see’s this as a further step to the Universities investment in the community. “We’ve seen how our investment in the Arcade has cultivated new interest in the university by students from across the globe, being the first to own a Major League sports team will do amazing things for our sports management majors as well as our health and sport science program. This is a trailblazing step by a University and we’re sure that others may try to follow.”

Sullivan said “The $55M commitment to secure the franchise by a team of local alumni and boosters was only logical after we spent considerably more than this on the renovation of the arena. The praise of the building and the success of the First Four play-in series helped us convince the WNBA that this was the right move.” The league has been planning on expansion from 12 to 16 teams by 2028, and while other ownership groups were being asked to ante up for practice facilities and arenas, UD already has all of those in place.

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert is excited about the speed that this project came together, and believes that the next four years will see the expansion goals reached or exceeded by 2028. “Caitlin Clark has exponentially increased the interest in the women’s game and we believe that we’re poised for explosive growth.” The fact that a group of major investors put an additional $75M into the league currently valued at a billion dollars helped the UD groups buy in on this investment.

In 2023 a group that included Nike Inc., Laurene Powell Jobs, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Columbus Crew and Cleveland Browns co-owner Dee Haslam, and Linda Henry, co-owner of the Boston Red Sox and the Liverpool FC all invested in the league. Sports teams have seen spectacular valuation growth in the last ten years, largely because sports is now the only must-see live programming that major advertisers are looking for.

JP Nauseef, president of Jobs Ohio and an early organizer of the First Four, said that they were contributing $10M toward this effort. “With seven new hotels opening in Downtown Dayton, this can only help create the kind of momentum that moves Dayton up the ladder for site selection evaluation and competition on a global scale” said Nauseef.

While the name of the franchise is still being finalized, Sullivan noted that it was unfortunate that the Dallas franchise had already taken the name “Wings” – “It would have been a nice memorial to one of our greatest supporters, Milt Kantor, who had the short lived WBA Dayton Wings franchise in the early nineties. Milt was ahead of his time, and has meant so much to this program.”

The branding assignment has been given to The Next Wave Marketing Innovation in Dayton according to Sullivan. “They worked with the Dayton Dynamo, the Dayton Bombers and turned around attendance for the Dayton Wings with their 1992 “Dream Team Challenge” stunt – where the Wing’s offered to take on the first US Olympic team to include NBA stars for a charity game.”

With the WNBA season kicking off on May 14th, and the Indiana Fever being the predicted winners of the Caitlin Clark sweepstakes, this announcement solidifies the region as a basketball hotbed. Engelbert recently attended the First Four games in Dayton, watching the arena fill to watch teams with no local connections. The level of excitement in the arena is when she knew that this expansion franchise was the right move. “No other city could consistently bring out fans like this, and we’re sure that Dayton will be a successful addition to our league.”


For additional information, April First only, contact Neil Sullivan at (937) 229-4861 or [email protected]

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