Breanna Stewart free agency spotlights WNBA’s out-of-whack travel inequalities

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Breanna Stewart is, by astir reckonings, the champion women’s hoops subordinate successful the world, and arsenic she enters escaped bureau successful her premier astatine the property of 28, she has the imaginable to upend the WNBA. In much ways than one. 

Stewart is leveraging the attraction surrounding her determination and the question of whether she’ll beryllium taking her talents to Brooklyn (the New York Liberty, who play location games astatine Barclays Center, are the apt front-runners among 4 finalists to motion her) to advocator for the league to scrap its low-budget question argumentation and follow the usage of charter flights for its teams. 

The charter-flight contented gets astatine the bosom of the economical tensions successful the WNBA’s maturation from a fledgling league to a much mainstream, moneyed cognition — and who’s footing the bill.

“I would emotion to beryllium portion of a woody that helps subsidize charter question for the full WNBA,” Stewart wrote Sunday connected societal media. “I would lend my [name, representation and likeness], posts + accumulation hrs to guarantee we each question successful a mode that prioritizes subordinate wellness + safety, which yet results successful a amended product. Who’s with me?” 

Breanna StewartBreanna StewartGetty Images
Brittney Griner volition  instrumentality    to the WNBA this season.Brittney Griner volition instrumentality to the WNBA this season.Getty Images

The tweet, which had 3.6 cardinal views arsenic of Wednesday afternoon, was promoted by chap WNBA stars Chiney Ogwumike and Elena Delle Donne, arsenic good arsenic NBA All-Star constituent defender Ja Morant and Connecticut phenom Paige Bueckers. 

“I’m gladsome they’re speaking out. … I privation this procreation of WNBA players to truly combat for what’s bully for our league,” erstwhile WNBA All-Star Chasity Melvin told The Post. 

“It was precise hard [when I flew commercial], due to the fact that 1 happening that is hard is the grooming facet and the carnal aspect, you know, the swelling of your knees and your feet. … You tin person the champion trainers but you’re not gonna get each that swelling retired and you’re not gonna beryllium stretched decently to play successful the game. We practiced for agelong hours and we flew commercialized and had to get up astatine 4 a.m. for flights. … So you instrumentality a afloat time to question wherever you could usage it arsenic signifier clip if you person charter flights.” 

Elena Delle DonneElena Delle DonneGetty Images
Chasity MelvinChasity Melvin says she wants the existent procreation of WNBA players to “really combat for what’s bully for our league.”NBAE via Getty Images

Only it’s not astir truthful elemental arsenic taking up a postulation and past fueling up the backstage jets. The rules astir question standards are portion of the corporate bargaining statement betwixt the league and the players’ union, and WNBA squad owners — galore of whom person balked astatine the added outgo — would person to ballot to modify the existent strategy successful which teams exclusively alert commercialized and charter flights are prohibited.

In an interrogation this week with Sportico, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the projected outgo of chartering flights crossed the league is $25 million-30 cardinal per twelvemonth and the existent airfare fund is lone a “very tiny fraction” of that.

“I deliberation it would person to beryllium a corporate of companies, due to the fact that $25 oregon $30 cardinal a twelvemonth is simply a large fig — but if a clump of players got a clump of companies who wanted to assistance money this, we’d perfectly spouse with the players and speech to them astir however it would work,” Engelbert said. 

“Honestly, erstwhile we commencement to speech astir the numbers that are progressive here, that scares radical away. That’s wherefore longer term, it [happens] yet either done the close valuation of our media rights oregon a corporate of sponsors who truly privation to measurement up and marque this happen.” 

The buck-passing to players and their sponsors is astatine slightest successful portion owed to a disagreement successful the ownership ranks astir making the concern successful charter flights retired of their ain pockets. Liberty and Nets owners Joe Tsai and Clara Wu Tsai beryllium to a contingent of newer, deep-pocketed WNBA owners — said to see Las Vegas Aces proprietor Mark Davis and the Atlanta Dream radical led by Larry Gottesdiener — consenting to marque seven-figure interior investments.

But for 1 squad to alert backstage and different to proceed to question connected commercialized airlines is considered an unfair advantage. In 2021, the Tsais were discovered to person provided charter flights for the Liberty during the 2nd fractional of the season, according to Sports Illustrated, and the squad initially was threatened with “termination of the franchise” earlier yet agreeing to a league-record $500,000 good — for treating the players excessively well.

Joe Tsai, left, and Clara Wu Tsai, right, ain  the WNBA's New York Liberty.Joe Tsai, left, and Clara Wu Tsai, right, ain the WNBA’s New York Liberty.Getty Images

(In related news, Clara Tsai led a Liberty contingent to Istanbul — not connected United with a transportation successful Lisbon, we’re guessing — connected Wednesday for a gathering with Stewart.) 

Another wrinkle for the 2023 play involves All-Star Mercury halfway Brittney Griner, who plans to instrumentality to the WNBA aft spending astir of 2022 as a captive successful Russia. ESPN precocious reported determination successful an presumption that Griner volition request to alert privately owed to information concerns. And if 1 squad flies backstage … 

So the WNBA, present entering its 27th season, is experiencing the turbulence of a mid-sized pro league — akin to MLS oregon the G-League — trying to sync its ambitions and balance-sheet realities. As precocious arsenic 2018, a crippled was canceled aft the Aces were forced to walk the nighttime successful an airport; past year, the league came up with the wealth for charters during the finals. 

“At the extremity of the day, we’re not a G league,” Melvin said. “We’re the apical tier women’s nonrecreational league. We person to find a mode wherever we tin get charter flights.” 

Stewart is speaking up astir the discomfort of commercialized question — but to scope caller heights with charter flights, idiosyncratic has to constitute the large check.