WNBA adds charters for playoffs, back-to-backs

    M.A. Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

The WNBA is expanding the use of charter flights to include back-to-back regular-season games during the 2023 season as well as all playoff games, the league said Monday.

“One of my main goals has been to enhance the player-first experience,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told ESPN. “While recognizing in a growing league our size and scale, doing things incrementally and chipping away at it is the best practice.”

The WNBA had traveled via commercial airlines almost exclusively until 2019, when Engelbert took over as commissioner. That year, she approved the use of charter flights during the playoffs in circumstances where teams had to cross multiple time zones with just a day between games.

Last year, the league expanded charters to the entirety of the WNBA Finals, as well as for the visiting team for the final of the midseason Commissioner’s Cup.

The WNBA has four best-of-3 first-round playoff series, with best-of-5 series then being played in the semifinals and Finals. Now all of that travel will be chartered.

The topic of charter flights has been raised frequently by players, although they signed off on the 2020 collective bargaining agreement without charters. The New York Liberty were fined $500,000 after using charter flights against league rules during the 2021 season.

The WNBA has held firm that to maintain competitive balance in the 12-team league, no team can independently opt to charter flights. The league also said no franchise has come forward to present the board of governors with sponsorship offers to pay for charter flights for every team, despite some reports the Liberty had done that.

“I have talked to the entire board individually and collectively about this,” Engelbert said. “They’re all supportive. They trust that I’m looking out for the fiscal responsibility side and that we’ll continue to do more. We’ve got another collective bargaining agreement coming and another media deal coming over the next few years. All our owners are rowing in the same direction.”

Engelbert stresses the need to make sure the league, which launched in 1997, can fund charters in perpetuity.

“This is something I’ve been working since I’ve come into the league,” she said. “Long-term growth for the WNBA is of utmost importance. We’ll always look to do more, but now I feel comfortable in doing this.

“It’s not just about coming up with the money to do it for one year. It’s about creating a sustainable model. It’s hard to get a sponsor to partner with you on an operating expense. I know a lot of people want instantaneous change, but we’re not going to do something we can’t afford. I feel really good about our momentum and revenue opportunities to do this.”

For instances of back-to-back games during the regular season, charter flights can be taken for the trip between the two games that require air travel. There are five such instances in 2023.

Engelbert said the use of charters for back-to-back games is for 2023, but it may have to be revisited in 2024, when the league’s schedule is altered by a monthlong break for the Paris Olympics. And in years with the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, which is typically held in September-October, the league’s schedule also is usually compacted.

“This year, we’re expanding to 40 games and we have a good footprint schedule-wise to do this,” Engelbert said. “We are not yet at the point to say we’ll fund every back-to-back in perpetuity. But we can this season.”

Source: Read Full Article