I remember happening upon a web site a while back that was heavily campaigning for the WNBA to put an expansion team in Atlanta. At the time, I thought it might have been a bit of a long shot, mainly because I didn’t think of Atlanta as a hub of women’s basketball (certainly not in the South), but at least was interesting.
The team fills a hole left open by the folding of the Charlotte Sting, evening out the Eastern and Western conferences at 7 teams each. Before the Sting’s folding, the addition of the Chicago Sky had a similar effect. The new Atlanta team serves as a replacement for the Sting in another way, serving as the WNBA’s team for the South. However, its placement in the “Queen City of the South” is probably a preferable placement to smaller Charlotte.
That said, there’s a reason I was skeptical about the WNBA-in-Atlanta drive. Philadelphia, Dallas-Fort Worth, the Bay Area (discounting the Monarchs), and Boston are all larger Nielsen markets without WNBA teams. But that says more about the WNBA in general than about the decision to put a team in the No. 8 media market. Remember, the WNBA was ten years old before they put a team in Chicago and thus triangulated. (In my parlance, a league “triangulates” when it has a team in each of the Big Three markets – New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. That’s a major barometer of the health of a smaller league. Of course, the NFL gets by just fine without triangulation – it has no team in LA.)
By the 2000 Census, the largest metro area without a WNBA team is the Bay Area, followed by Philadelphia, Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and (formerly) Atlanta. Right behind Atlanta is an ominous sign of the potential health of an Atlanta team: Miami, former home to the Sol. That team started playing in 2000 and lasted only three seasons before folding. Of course, that’s not so much a sign for the South as much as it is for Florida. Both the WNBA and MLS have had two teams each in Florida, the WNBA in Miami and Orlando, MLS in Miami and Tampa Bay (the largest Nielsen market behind Atlanta without a WNBA team). In all four cases, the teams either folded or moved elsewhere. Florida can’t even hold a major league team in places it should, as the story of the Florida Marlins and the continued suckitude of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays show. Still, it’s worth noting that Atlanta also lacks an MLS team… and once the San Jose Earthquakes return to the Bay Area, Philadelphia will be the only larger market and 2000-definition metro area without an MLS team, meaning Atlanta will be the largest market and 2000-definition metro area to have a WNBA team but no MLS team, replacing Detroit (on the list of markets) and Seattle (on the list of metro areas). Well, at least the Shock and Storm have had some success, even if the Storm might be about to take off for greener pastures.