At the start of WNBA training camp last weekend, the reigning champion Las Vegas Aces unveiled the team’s new 64,000 square-foot practice facility and headquarters, adjacent to the Raiders’ Henderson, Nev., performance center and headquarters.
The Aces share an owner, Mark Davis, with the NFL franchise, and the new practice facility reflects the pro sports state-of-the-art. In addition to two full courts and a locker room that rivals that of many NBA teams, the training center boasts a film room, player lounge, nutrition bar, training and weight rooms with all the bells and whistles (hot and cold plunge pools, an infrared sauna and cryotherapy chamber) and a dedicated family space. It’s also the first built in the league’s 27-year history solely for use by a WNBA team—and one that happened to open on the eve of the league’s super-team era.
This offseason saw several of the league’s top stars relocate in free agency, with some of the biggest names landing in Las Vegas and New York, two franchises with owners who have proven their financial commitment to their clubs. For example, Davis gave Becky Hammon the WNBA’s first seven-figure coaching salary and then invested millions more in the new facilities; the Liberty’s Joe Tsai swallowed a $500,000 dollar fine for violating league rules when he chartered his team in 2021, supercharging his campaign for privatized player travel across the league.
Two-time WNBA champion Candace Parker, who has played for the Los Angeles Sparks and Chicago Sky and joined an already stacked roster in Vegas, has said this will be the first time she’s had a locker of her own in her 16-year career.
“The message is that we care,” Nikki Fargas, Las Vegas Aces president, said in an interview. “These women are accustomed to having practice facilities at their respective [college] institutions, and to be able to continue your professional career and have those resources—that’s huge. It’s an expectation that should exist across the entire league.”
The facility also provides an in-market offseason training space, which the Aces hope will entice more players to stay in Las Vegas after the WNBA season ends, making them available for community and marketing initiatives. “It’s really difficult to grow our game when our players aren’t in market,” Fargas said.
The more connected fans feel to the team, Fargas reasons, the more tickets they’ll buy. Though many players will likely still go abroad to earn additional income, having their own space also gives the team an even bigger business benefit: new assets to sell, including naming rights to the facility itself.
“We have an owner that from day one was going to build [the players] a practice facility so they can train and get better,” Fargas said. “Hopefully, there’s opportunities for other teams to do the same.”
While the facility is the first of its kind in the WNBA, it won’t be the last. The Seattle Storm, for example, raised $21 million earlier this year (at a $130 million valuation) to fund the construction of a $64 million, 50,000-square-foot practice facility and business office. The team broke ground in late March with the goal of completion by spring 2024, in time for next season.
Both the Chicago Sky and Atlanta Dream are scouting locations for similar facilities in their respective markets.
“It is exciting to see these types of investments in our league and our players,” Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel said.
Other owners such as the Liberty’s Tsai, who also owns the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, have carved out pieces of existing property for their WNBA teams. When the women’s team moved into the Barclays Center at the start of the 2021 season, Tsai invested in a swanky wing for the Liberty at the Barclays Center training facilities, complete with a locker room, private practice court, a treatment room, hot tubs and a player lounge. The Phoenix Mercury also shares both an ownership group and practice facility with the NBA’s Suns.
The pros are taking a page from NCAA teams, where big-budget schools like Texas, Clemson and Alabama have shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars for never-ending upgrades—some with no clear athletic purpose at all, like the slide in the Tigers’ football facility—largely done to enhance recruiting. The amenities highlighted the gap between college athletics haves and have-nots, and may do the same in the WNBA.
The trend has spread to professional soccer, too. Last year in the NWSL, the Kansas City Current opened the first women’s soccer-specific training facility—an $18 million, privately funded building touted as the first training complex specifically for a women’s professional sports team in the U.S. Meanwhile, construction is also underway on the Current’s new stadium, a $117 million riverfront project that’s the first venue primarily for professional women’s soccer.
The ownership group behind the NWSL’s coming Bay Area expansion team, led by private equity giant Sixth Street, committed $40 million to a practice facility on top of a league-record $53 million expansion fee after a highly competitive bidding process.