In a changing WNBA, travel has loomed as one of the league’s hottest topics of discussion in recent years. A divide has emerged between teams with the ability to charter flights in-seasons and teams without it, which came to a head when the Liberty were fined $500,000 for chartering flights during the 2021 season.
League commissioner Cathy Engelbert addressed the problem in a lengthy interview with ESPN, outlining what would need to happen for charters flights to become the norm throughout the league.
“The thing some people are missing is that this isn’t a one-year funding,” Engelbert said. “This is something you’ve got to fund—I want to say in perpetuity—but let’s say you have to make sure you have a business model to fund it for at least a decade.”
Engelbert pointed to a better media deal for the league as a potential avenue toward charter flights, citing how such deals help teams in men's leagues charter their flights.
“The way that all the leagues that do have charters get funded is through enormous media rights deals,” Engelbert said. “This is why we’re working so hard to transform the economics of our league… I’m obviously very vocal about the fact that there’s a huge undervaluation in women’s sports of our media rights. We’ve got to right-size that in our next round of media negotiations.”
A number of solutions have been floated to remedy the problem. Sports Illustrated reported in March 2022 that the Liberty had floated comping charter travel for every team for three years—but the proposal was voted down (the WNBA disputed this in a statement). More recently, New York forward Breanna Stewart expressed on Twitter that she wanted to be “part of a deal that helps subsidize charter travel for the entire WNBA.”
Engelbert expressed her continued desire to make charter travel the norm throughout the league and season in years to come.
“There is no one that wants charter travel for these players more than Cathy Engelbert,” she said. “That’s why we’re working so hard on the transformation. I learned from my 33 years in business before I came here. I know how to grow a business, give me some time. We’re going to get there.”