Denver’s WNBA fans want a local team, and it could actually happen

The league commissioner said that Denver remains in the running for a WNBA team.
5 min. read
Women’s basketball fans gathered to watch March Madness at Lady Justice Brewing.
Courtesy of Dea Vander-Fertgus

When Dea Vander-Fertgus first started organizing WNBA watch parties in Denver last year, the first meetup included just Vander-Fertgus, her wife Lindsey Vander-Fertgus and her friend. Her fantasy league included a handful of family members. 

“The bar was cool, they accommodated us and gave us our own TV, but then no one showed up,” she said.

A year later, things look a lot different.

At the most recent watch party for the March Madness championship game, the group packed Lady Justice Brewing. Vander-Fertgus has filled two fantasy leagues ahead of the season starting in May and has a waitlist for a potential third.

“Every single seat was filled, people were standing just to watch the game,” she said. “Every single watch party during March Madness got bigger and bigger and bigger.”

Lindsey (left) and Dea Vander-Fertgus, founders of The WNBA Club of Denver, sit in Edgewater's Walker-Branch Park. April 17, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Denver doesn’t have a women’s basketball team (or any professional women’s sports team for that matter), which is why Vander-Fertgus has been organizing watch parties for March Madness and the WNBA at large. 

But that could change. League Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced at the WNBA draft Monday the cities in the running for the league’s expansion. That list includes Denver, along with Philadelphia, Nashville, South Florida, Toronto and Portland, Oregon.

Denver missed out in 2023 when the league added a Bay Area team for 2025. 

But now it’s looking to grow from its current 12 teams to 16 by 2028, at a moment when interest in and money for women’s sports is growing.

“Women’s basketball is not a fad,” Engelbert said before the draft. “We’ve been steadily building this momentum for years and we’re ready for what’s next.”

Engelbert visited Denver in August of 2023, where she met with the Mayor’s office and an investor group that included IMA Financial Group CEO Robert Cohen, Stonebridge CEO Navin Dimond and his daughter Ashley Dimond. The Denver Post reported that former Denver Nuggets player Bill Hanzlik was also involved in potential planning.

The league later announced the next new team would be the Bay Area. But as the WNBA plans further expansions, Denver continues to be in the running.

“We’re getting a lot of calls, we continue to engage with cities,” Engelbert said. “Just last week we got calls from two other cities, and these can either take a very long time to negotiate or can happen pretty quickly if you find the right ownership group with the right arena situation.”

Jordan Fuja, Press Secretary for the Mayor's Office, said Denver would be interested.

“With both the Avs and Nuggets heading to the playoffs for a championship run, there’s no doubt that Denver is one of the greatest sports cities in the word," Fuja said. "Even so, we’re also the largest city without a professional women’s sports team. Denver’s incredible fan base would welcome a WNBA team with open arms when the time is right for the league and the local ownership group.”

The potential for a Denver team is part of a larger push to grow the audience for women’s sports in the city.

A separate group of community leaders and investors are working to bring a professional women’s soccer team to the city.

A women’s sports bar is also set to open in Denver this summer, with the hope of partnering with new and growing women’s teams.

“There's not one women's professional team here and it just speaks to the lack of investment in women's sports,” Vander-Fertgus said. “My true passion is basketball but I will be a season ticket holder at any single women's professional anything that would come here. My goal is that someone somewhere at the WNBA sees what we're doing here without anyone asking us to.”

For many WNBA fans, growing the fanbase is not just about enjoying the sport, but also about pushing for pay equity in an industry where salaries and opportunities for men far outpace those for women. With just 12 teams compared to the (M)NBA’s 30, there are far fewer spots for women to go pro.

Number-one draft pick Caitlin Clark’s starting salary is $76,535, while the first draft pick in the MNBA is expected to make around $10.5 million, according to Vox.

Vander-Fertgus' DMs are full of people expressing support for the WNBA. In Albuquerque, someone started a similar group with a localized version of her Instagram handle, @wnbaclub_denver. Vander-Fertgus hopes it will become a whole network.

As for now, Vander-Fertgus plans to continue hosting watch parties as the WNBA season kicks off on May 14. When asked what new fans should know, she emphasized the league’s history.

“It's important for new fans to know that this isn't the start of women's basketball,” she said. “It took a lot of decades to get to this point and all the players that came before are equally as talented and to learn about them makes the game so much more special.”

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from the Mayor's office.

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