The Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) is planning to expand the number of charter flights that are provided to players for the 2023 season.
The regular season started on May 19 and will continue until September 10, with the playoff games starting on September 13. The expanded program will include flights for all postseason games and regular season games in which the teams have consecutive games on their schedules. WNBA's postseason games include the 2023 WNBA Playoffs, the WNBA Commissioner's Cup Championship Game, and the WNBA Finals.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said, "We continue the hard work of transforming the business of the league, and the ability to expand this program is a direct result of that. Since joining the league a few years ago, a goal of mine has been to enhance the overall player experience and, in that regard, make incremental improvements where we are able to do so and when we believe the model would support it for the long-term."
The WNBA has allowed charter flights to operate in special situations during select games for several years now. The WNBA expanded the program last year to include the WNBA Commissioner's Cup Championship Game and all WNBA Finals games.
Although the WNBA's decision to provide more charter flights has been well-received by teams so far, many team owners want the league to go further. For example, Phoenix Mercury owner Mat Ishbia suggested that the WNBA should provide charter flights for every game of the season.
Ishbia said, "I feel like you invest in the players, you invest in the team, you do all the right [things] and money follows. Too many people think about the other way around, and, so, that's my belief system. The WNBA is doing some good things and the commissioner's doing good things to move it in that direction. And I respect what they're doing and I'm definitely a supporter of getting there faster and sooner."
This update to the WNBA's charter flights program was first announced in early April. According to the Associated Press, charter flights for playoff and consecutive regular season games are expected to cost approximately $4.5 million.
Ishbia's request that the WNBA also provide charter flights for non-consecutive games in the regular season is expected to cost the league approximately $25 million.
Charter flights have increasingly become a topic of discussion within the WNBA in recent months. For example, New York Liberty player Breanna Stewart advocated for charter flights during the most recent offseason.
In February, multiple sources suggested that Brittney Griner may have to fly privately for the 2023 season due to security concerns. Griner was released from a detention center in Russia in December after being held captive for six months for drug-related charges. It is currently unknown if Griner's team, the Phoenix Mercury, will provide her with private flights for the entire season.
It is currently illegal for WNBA teams to use charter flights without permission since it violates the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players' union. Teams that can afford charter flights would additionally have an unfair competitive advantage over those that cannot.
The WNBA provides steep penalties to people who violate the league's rules. For example, the New York Liberty got fined $500,000 for providing chartered flights to away games during the 2021 WNBA season. Now that discussions are increasing, the WNBA may eventually change its rules in the future.
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