all scores

New York Liberty faced ‘termination of the franchise’ over chartered flights

(Jesse Louie/Just Women's Sports)

Last season, the New York Liberty opted to charter the team flights for the second half of the WNBA season, resulting in a $500,000 fine and consideration of “termination of the franchise,” according to a recent Sports Illustrated report by Howard Megdal. The fine is the largest in WNBA history.

The article, which details the circumstances surrounding the league-record fine, also discusses a larger issue – the differences among WNBA owners with regards to the league’s growth.

Some, like Liberty owners Joe and Clara Tsai, want to invest more in their teams in order to turn them into profitable franchises. Others “view it as pure charity,” according to Megdal.

According to the article, the Liberty told the WNBA Board of Directors last September that they had found a way to get charter flights compensated for every team in the league for three years.

In October, Tsai tweeted out that conversations with airline CEOs were “going well.”

“They get the idea of equity for women athletes,” he said.

However, the plan lacked majority support. Some owners were worried that there would be no going back once players got used to the new form of travel.

WNBA travel has been hotly debated in the past. Currently, the league’s CBA does not allow for teams to pay for anything more than premium economy. There have been a multitude of travel issues, including delayed flights, which have led coaches like Chicago’s James Wade and Connecticut’s Curt Miller to publicly lament the complicated travel arrangements between games.

During last year’s WNBA Finals, the league chartered flights for the Chicago Sky and Phoenix Mercury between Games 2 and 3.

The current CBA does not allow teams to charter flights. When the Liberty opted to charter flights for each road game during the second half of last season, the league intervened. A $1 million fine was floated around informally, as well as the possibility of terminating the franchise or removing draft picks. Ultimately, the fine was reduced to $500,000.

Since then, Tsai isn’t the only owner to raise the possibility of charter flights. Las Vegas Aces owner Mark Davis said in an early February media call that the “players do deserve more money” as well as better flight options.

“They don’t need to be flying on commercial flights,” Davis said. “We should have charter flights.”

On Tuesday, Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu responded to the article, saying “What a joke.”