Greiner’s return, free agency raises concerns about charter flight

Brittney Griner’s return to the WNBA this summer after she was traded in a dramatic December prisoner swap deal to Russia with free agency, has caused potential travel complications to the league due to safety concerns for her.

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

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

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

While Griner’s situation is unique, other players have raised the issue of charter flights, which teams have deemed too expensive.

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

“No one wants to make this work more than me,” Engelbert said. That’s why we’re working hard to transform the economic business model. We’ve made positive changes over the past two years, but we’re not going to jeopardize the league’s financial capacity. We’re on the cusp of something big here.”

How much would the WNBA cost to charter flights?

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

The estimated cost for each charter flight franchise would be approximately $2 million. Air travel expenses per team are currently about $150,000, according to two people familiar with the costs. The people spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

“We did it last year for the finals and we have experience about the cost of the routes we need to fly,” said Engelbert. “We are monitoring and updating our analysis. We will try to get an economic model to fund this as quickly as we can.”

What happens if a team takes charter flights?

If teams violate the current CBA they may be fined.

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

Has the WNBA considered reducing the number of trips?

Coveted free agent Brenna Stewart, who has narrowed her options to a few teams including New York City, has launched a social media campaign to try and help get charter flights to the league. She tweeted, “I would like to be part of a deal that helps support charter travel for the entire WNBA. I will contribute my NIL hours, engagements + production hours to make sure we all travel in a way that prioritizes player health + safety, ultimately resulting in a better product.” with me?”

Many current and former WNBA and NBA players have lent their support. Although any change to travel restrictions must be voted on by the federation and the league.

“We’re going to need a forever commitment,” Engelbert said. “That’s $250 to $300 million. Look at the gate and media deals and sponsorship dollars. We’re nowhere close to being able to afford $250 million over the next decade.”

Do women’s college teams fly charter flights?

WNBA players are used to charter flights. That’s how they traveled in college.

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

This legislation does not apply to professionals, so intercity NBA teams have no influence over what WNBA teams do.

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