PHOENIX MERCURY

Commissioner: WNBA to begin full-time charter flights this season

May 7, 2024, 1:35 PM

Caitlin Clark goes No. 1 overall in the 2024 WNBA Draft...

Caitlin Clark poses with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert after being selected first overall pick by the Indiana Fever during the 2024 WNBA Draft at Brooklyn Academy of Music on April 15, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) — The wait for full-time charter flights for WNBA teams finally is over with commissioner Cathy Engelbert announcing the league’s plans to start the program this season.

“We intend to fund a full-time charter for this season,” Engelbert said Tuesday in a meeting with sports editors.

She said the league will launch the program “as soon as we can get planes in places.”

Engelbert said the program will cost the league around $25 million per year for the next two seasons.

The WNBA already had announced at its draft last month plans to once again pay for charter flights for the entire playoffs as well as for back-to-back games during the upcoming season that require air travel.

The league’s schedule features more back-to-back sets this season with the WNBA taking a long break for the Olympics in late July and early August. The league spent $4 million on charters in 2023.

Engelbert said before the WNBA draft that the league needs to be in the right financial position to charter planes.

The WNBA is attracting more attention than ever thanks to rookies like Caitlin Clark, who helped the NCAA reach its best viewership in history for women’s basketball, with nearly 19 million fans watching the title game, along with Angel Reese who went to the Met Gala on Monday night and Cameron Brink.

Clark attracted attention walking through the airport with her new Indiana Fever teammates for a preseason game with the Dallas Wings last week. That exhibition sold out with fans lined up eager to get inside.

WNBA teams also have been moving games against Clark and Indiana to bigger arenas due to increased demand.

Flights have been an issue for the WNBA that only increased last year with the league working with Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury. They had to go commercial air, and the All-Star center who had been detained in Russia for nearly 10 months was harassed by what the WNBA called a “provocateur.”

The league hadn’t allowed teams to use charter flights except for when they have back-to-back games.

Many teams had been using public charter airline JSX. Those flights were allowed by the WNBA with certain protocols in place, including that teams fly on the 30-seat planes using preset routes and times.

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