WNBA superstar Breanna Stewart’s free agency was already the biggest talking point of the offseason with her cryptic emoji-filled tweets sweeping social media.
That’s the type of attention you command as one of the best players in the league, as the 2018 WNBA MVP, four-time All-Star and two-time WNBA champion will severely swing the hierarchy of the W with her free agency decision.
But on Sunday, Stewart had social media buzzing for reasons other than her cryptic emoji tweets. The star forward announced she wants to help “subsidize charter travel for the entire WNBA” by contributing profits from her name, image and likeness deals.
I would love to be part of a deal that helps subsidize charter travel for the entire WNBA.
I would contribute my NIL, posts + production hrs to ensure we all travel in a way that prioritizes player health + safety, which ultimately results in a better product.
Who’s with me?
— Breanna Stewart (@breannastewart) January 22, 2023
It didn’t take long for other WNBA stars to support Stewart’s notion, as her replies flooded with approval for her suggestion. Players like Sue Bird, Elena Della Donne, Chiney Ogwumike, Kahleah Copper, Layshia Clarendon and Alysha Clark all replied to say they were in, as did the WNBAPA’s official Twitter account.
Future WNBA stars like UCONN’s Paige Bueckers also pledged their allegiance to Stewart, while NBA stars like Ja Morant also backed the WNBA MVP.
What would it take for the WNBA to receive league-wide charter travel and what have discussions looked like around this idea in the past? The Sporting News has you covered below.
How much would private charter flights cost the WNBA?
The WNBA does not allow charter flights for its franchises, as commissioner Cathy Engelbert has said in the past it would cost the league $20 million each season to have every team fly privately.
“We’ve asked all the major airlines. We’ve asked charter companies. I’ve been working on this since the moment I came into the league. Without sponsors stepping up, it’s just not in the cards right now,” commissioner Engelbert said, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and M.A. Vopel.
“If we could get it sponsored or funded in some way… I’m all ears. I’ve gotten lots of calls over the past year about this since we’ve been back in our 12 markets. Then when people price it out, you never hear from them again,” Engelbert concluded.
Why doesn’t the WNBA allow charter flights?
As detailed by the NY Times last year, the league’s current collective bargaining agreement forbids teams from chartering flights themselves though teams are allowed to book players in premium economy seating “or similar enhanced coach fare.”
Of course, not every airline offers the same premium seating nor is it available on every flight. For example, premium commercial options between Seattle and Minnesota may not be the same as between New York and Los Angeles.
Under the current rules, players are allowed to upgrade their own seats but must pay the out-of-pocket difference themselves. This specific policy has received public criticism from players, with star center Liz Cambage tweeting last season, “Yall think imma spend another season upgrading my seat on a flight to get to games out of my own pocket.”
As it relates to the most recent push for a change, ESPN’s Shelburne also added that if the league were to move forward with this proposal, WNBA team owners would have to vote to make modifications to the current system.
Just last season, the New York Liberty were fined $500,000 when team owner Joe Tsai — who also owns the Brooklyn Nets — paid to charter a private plane for his team. However, the WNBA did charter flights for the WNBA Finals last season.
How Brittney Griner security concerns could impact WNBA travel policy
Brittney Griner’s return to the WNBA after missing last year due to being wrongfully detained in Russia adds another layer given the expected security concerns.
Shelburne reported that the WNBA will be dealing with another wrinkle regarding charter flights, as Griner, who was just released from a 10-month detainment in Russia, is expected to need to fly privately due to security concerns.
If Griner were to fly privately the league would have to address whether her teammates on the Mercury would fly privately with her. That would raise the question of fairness for the other teams in the league, which are currently not allowed to fly privately.
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) January 23, 2023
Could Stewart’s suggestion be the all-encompassing solution to the WNBA’s travel situation? Her tweet has certainly re-heated the conversation.