Brittney Griner’s return, free agency once again raises questions about WNBA teams chartering flights Pipa News


Brittney Griner’s return, free agency once again raises questions about WNBA teams chartering flights

Brittney Griner’s return to the WNBA this summer after she was traded in December in a dramatic prisoner swap with Russia has run afoul of a free-service operation, creating potential travel complications for the league over safety concerns for her.

If Griner, who is a free agent but has said she will return to Phoenix, needs special travel accommodations, such as charter flights, the league will have to come up with a plan for the 6-foot-9 star. Griner’s safety while traveling will be a top priority for the team and the league.

“We are very aware of BG’s unique situation,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told The Associated Press. “We’ve made plans and we’ve been thinking about it with security experts. BG’s side, our side. We’ll find the right time to comment on it when she signs with a team.”

That could come Wednesday, when free agents can officially sign.

While the Griner situation is unique, other major players raised the issue of charter flights, which teams found too costly.

The current collective bargaining agreement requires all teams to fly commercially and does not allow teams to charter flights. Any change to that would have to be approved by both the union and the league.

“Nobody wants to make this work more than I do,” said Engelbert. “That’s why we’re working so hard to transform the economic business model. We’ve had positive changes in recent years, but we’re not going to jeopardize the financial viability of the league. We’re on the verge of something.” big here.”

How much would it cost the WNBA to charter flights?

Engelbert says it would cost the league about $25 million US each season for each of its 12 teams to charter flights to each game. That number is up about $5 million from previous commissioner estimates due to the new 40-game WNBA schedule this season, fuel costs and other factors.

The estimated cost per franchise for charter flights would be approximately $2 million. The cost of flying is currently about $150,000 for each team, according to two people familiar with the cost. The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to address the issue publicly.

“We did it last year for the final and we have experience with how much it costs for routes that we have to fly,” said Engelbert. “We are monitoring and updating our analysis. We will try to get an economic model to fund this as soon as possible.”

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert speaks onstage during a press conference.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert speaks at a press conference for Game One of the 2022 WNBA Finals between the Connecticut Sun and the Las Vegas Aces at Michelob ULTRA Arena on September 11, 2022 in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

What happens when a WNBA team charters flights?

If teams violate the current collective agreement, they can be fined.

The New York Liberty was fined a WNBA record $500,000 in 2021 for chartering flights to away games in the second half of that season.

Coveted free agent Breanna Stewart, who has narrowed her choices down to a few teams, including New York, launched a social media campaign to try and get charter flights for the league. She tweeted, “I would love to be part of a deal that helps subsidize charter travel for the entire WNBA. I would contribute my NIL, posts + production hours to ensure we all travel in a way that prioritizes the player’s health and safety, ultimately resulting in a better product. Who will help me?”

Many current and former WNBA and NBA players offered their support. Although any change to travel restrictions would have to be approved by the union and the league.

“We would need a commitment to it forever,” said Engelbert. “That’s $250-300 million. Look at the gate and the media deal and sponsorship dollars. We’re nowhere near being able to pay $250 million over the next decade.”

WNBA players are used to flying charter flights. This is how they traveled in college.

Title IX legislation requires universities to have equal opportunity for their athletic programs for men and women. The NCAA will fly both the men’s and women’s teams on charter flights for the tournament if they are more than 400 miles from the site of their game.

That law doesn’t apply to the pros, so NBA teams that charter between cities don’t affect what WNBA teams do.