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On the heels of the Toronto Raptors championship, the audience for professional basketball in Canada has never been bigger. Now, the country’s two largest sports broadcasters are dipping their toes into expanded coverage of the Women’s National Basketball Association.

Rogers Communications Inc. and BCE Inc.'s Bell Media have struck a deal to carry some WNBA games on their Sportsnet and TSN specialty channels in the coming season.

The two channels, whose parent companies co-own Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., which owns the Raptors, already have a deal with the National Basketball Association to split coverage of NBA games in Canada. But until now, the women’s professional league games have been broadcast only on NBA TV Canada, a pay channel owned by the league – and as a result were promoted to a much smaller TV audience.

NBA TV had 1.8 million subscribers last year, according to figures from Canada’s broadcast regulator. By comparison, Sportsnet had nearly 7.2 million subscribers and TSN had 7.8 million.

For the first time, the deal provides a much bigger platform for some WNBA games, although most will still be on NBA TV only. In the regular season, TSN will broadcast 11 games and Sportsnet will air eight, while NBA TV Canada will broadcast 53 games.

Discussions between the league and the broadcasters about WNBA coverage began about a year ago and concluded before the NBA playoffs this season, when the Raptors were doing well but the media companies did not yet know what was to come.

“That injected a ton of energy and excitement into the goal of trying to build fans,” said NBA Canada managing director Dan MacKenzie. “Announcing [WNBA coverage] on the heels of the Raptors’ championship season was the perfect time.”

It’s estimated that more than half of the country tuned into the final Raptors game of the season at some point. Even before then, audiences grew significantly: Sportsnet for example, saw regular-season Raptors audiences grow 44 per cent compared with last year.

“The popularity of basketball continues to grow in Canada and we’re looking forward to reaching a new audience of fans by airing a suite of WNBA games this season,” Sportsnet vice-president Rob Corte said in a statement.

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