WNBA will arrange charter flights for all games, commissioner Cathy Engelbert said

New York Liberty coach Sandy Brondello and her star players Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones were in the middle of a preseason WNBA Zoom meeting with the national media when news began to trickle out that the league was working on a deal to bring charter trips to bring the competition.

Smiles. High fives everywhere.

“It’s amazing, if true,” Jones said.

It is. WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told a gathering of sports editors in New York on Tuesday that the league plans to commit $50 million over the next two years to provide full-time charter flights for all 12 teams during the season, which starts on Tuesday. . It will happen as quickly as the league can, logistically, get the plan – and the planes – in place.

This is the culmination of a move that the players have been pushing for a while, and it’s a matter of both safety and convenience.

As the league becomes more popular and its players better known, the issue of player safety has come to the forefront, with the treatment Phoenix center Brittney Griner experienced last season being an example. Griner, who spent nearly 10 months in custody in Russia in 2022, was harassed during a trip to Dallas last season.

But it is also convenience. The WNBA is about to play its second 40-game season. With a month-long Olympic break, that means compact schedules either side of the Paris Games.

“It would be really big,” Lynx All-Star Napheesa Collier said. “It’s something we’ve been asking for for years. It can’t be ignored anymore.”

“It’s a relief,” Lynx guard Kayla McBride added. “Knowing that we can get on a plane so you can recover properly. It’s important, especially this year.”

This is not a new issue. As Engelbert said, this is something the league has been working on for years. But the league needed a viable model to pay for it before agreeing to charter flights for every game, something the upcoming media rights deal could provide.

It may not happen right away, as the WNBA regular season starts next week. Engelbert said it could take several weeks, maybe a month. But it seems to be coming.

“Everyone’s immediate reaction is, ‘Great!’ said Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon.

Aces forward A’ja Wilson added: “I’m just glad it’s finally here. We were all tired of waiting.”

The move comes as the league experiences unprecedented interest, fueled in large part by a high-profile rookie class that includes Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese. The amount of fan interest has translated into challenges at airports; all 12 teams will travel with their own security this season.

“I’m glad something has catapulted this change,” Wilson said. “I’m glad we’ve gotten to this point.”