The WNBA plans to expand the number of charter flights during the 2023 season, the league announced Monday.
Charter flights will be used for all postseason games, beginning with the start of the 2023 WNBA playoffs all the way through the WNBA Finals. Previously, just the WNBA Finals and the Commissioner’s Cup championship were covered by charter flights, with few exceptions.
Additionally, charter flights will be used for teams traveling to back-to-back games during the regular season.
The league will pay for all of the flights, with an estimated cost of $4.5 million, the Associated Press reported.
“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,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a news release. “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 economic model would support it for the long-term.
“I’m pleased that we are able to broaden the program this year for the players. As the league continues to grow, we will look to do more in the future.”
The league is working with Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury on her travel plans. Griner’s high-profile detainment in Russia in 2022 may necessitate increased security.
“We’ve been working with Brittney and Phoenix since she signed and our security experts,” Engelbert told the Associated Press. “Working on a plan, but we want it to be confidential. She wants to travel with the team sometimes. Work as much as we can making sure we are following advice of our team. We have a very good plan, but I’m not going to share more specifics.”
The increased charter flight program comes after Breanna Stewart made charter flights a big issue in free agency. At the time, Engelbert had said that the league has been attempting to fund charter flights while balancing evolving the league as a business.
“I know a lot of people are saying, ‘OK, let’s take $25-$30 million and just divide it by 12,’” she said. “But that’s not how it’s going to work in reality, because we don’t want to jeopardize the financial viability of this league by putting the full onus on either the league or the owners. We’re all in this together.”
Indeed, the WNBA only has committed to expanding charter flights for travel to back-to-back games for the 2023 season.
“Next year we can’t do all of them,” Engelbert told the Associated Press, adding that she would like to see a new TV deal help bridge the funding gap.