Griner’s return, free agency raises concerns for charter flights – KGET 17

Brittney Griner’s return to the WNBA this summer after being traded in December’s dramatic prisoner swap with Russia is at odds with free agency, creating potential complications in the league’s security journey for her.

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

“We are very aware of the unique situation in BG,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told The Associated Press. “We planned and thought about it with security experts. BG side, our side. We will find the right time to comment on that when she signs with the team.”

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

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 all teams to fly commercially and does not allow teams to charter flights. Any change to that would have to be approved by both the union and the league.

“Nobody wants this to succeed more than I do,” Engelbert said. “That is why we are working so hard to transform the economic business model. We have had positive changes in the last few years, but we will not jeopardize the financial viability of the league. We are on the cusp of something big here.”


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

The estimated price per franchise for charter flights would be about 2 million dollars. Air travel costs are currently about $150,000 for each team, 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 address the matter publicly.

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


If teams violate the current CBA, they could be fined.

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


Wanted free agent Breanna Stewart, who has narrowed down her choices to several teams, including New York, has launched a social media campaign to try to help get charter flights for the league. She tweeted, “Would love to be part of a deal that helps subsidize charter travel for the entire WNBA. I would contribute my NIL, posts + production hours to ensure we all travel in a way that prioritizes player health + safety, ultimately resulting in a better product. Who is with me?”

Many current and former WNBA and NBA players have offered their support. Although any change to travel restrictions would have to be voted on by the union and the league.

“It would take us an eternity to commit to it,” Engelbert said. “It’s 250-300 million dollars. Look at the gate and the media deal and the sponsorship dollars. We are nowhere near being able to afford $250 million over the next decade.”


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

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

That law does not apply to professionals, so intercity NBA rental teams have no effect on what WNBA teams do.

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