UNCASVILLE, Conn. There was a lot of excitement when the Connecticut Sun players boarded their charter plane en route to Las Vegas for Game One of the WNBA Finals, said goalkeeper Nia Clouden.
Pillows and blankets, fully reclining chairs and a generous list of free food awaited them. Clouden typically doesn’t eat roasted and salted almonds, crackers, chips, and other snacks served on team business flights. But that night I ordered a pepperoni pizza.
Center Sun Junkel Jones pointed out the long legs that are part of her 6-foot-6, 215-pound frame to show how leg room on her charter plane made a difference for her. You usually try to find an exit row seat on flights, but the space is never enough. Jones said she was also happy to avoid “all the nonessential things that happen at airports.”
“Sometimes after a game you don’t really feel like talking, you go to the airport and people want to talk about the game,” Jones said with a laugh. “Or they want to ask you about your height — constantly — all the time. “How’s the weather in there?” And he’s like, Dude, I’m just trying to get to the next destination.”
She added, “As much as we love our fans – we appreciate them – sometimes it can be a little stressful, and it makes the season a little bit harder.”
This season, for the first time ever, the league has agreed to provide charter travel throughout the WNBA Finals. Commissioner Kathy Engelbert stated that the league does not have enough revenue to cover travel for all teams during the regular season and playoffs, which its capacity would cost. More than 20 million dollars. Teams fly commercially during the season and playoffs, with rare exceptions for severe travel difficulties.
Athletes in the major professional sports leagues like the NFL, NBA, and MLB, and even many men’s and women’s Division I players, are used to charter flights. But those men’s leagues have been around for much longer than the WNBA and have billions of dollars in revenue, while the women’s league is regularly running at a loss.
The WNBA has not committed to offering charter flights for next year’s Finals or expanding into the regular season or any other portion of the playoffs. Engelbert said the association was able to provide charters for the finals due to its efforts to increase revenue.
“As we focus on growing this league by adding more partner companies, increasing media exposure and disrupting outdated assessments of women’s sports media rights,” Engelbert said in a statement, “we hope to continue offering these opportunities when possible.”
More about the WNBA
- star return: Lauren Jackson, the three-time WNBA Most Valuable Player, has Returned to the Australian national team After injuries ousted her from the sport in 2014.
- swan song: Sue Bird, who said she would retire after this season, sponsored Seattle Storm to the playoffs. The team lost on September 7 It marks the end of her amazing career.
- greatness overwhelmed: Sylvia Fowles, who has also announced her retirement from basketball, is one of the most successful American athletes of all time. Why is it not better known?
- critical eye: With the growing enthusiasm for women’s basketball and the growing WNBA, fans More demanding than the league And more frank about their desires.
The collective bargaining agreement between the WNBA and the Players’ Association prohibits teams from chartering flights without the league’s approval. The Liberty was fined $500,000 To secretly travel to several games with the tenant last season.
So players fly commercially and deal with delays, Covid risks, and many of the flying challenges customers deal with every day as well. If you’re wondering why professional athletes should have different travel standards anyway, several WNBA players said it started with comfort.
The players said getting a good night’s sleep is crucial to playing in a regular 36-game season – with half of those matches on the way – when a future player’s salary and place in the league depend on his performance each night. Rest can be especially challenging on a commercial flight for tall humans who operate women’s basketball teams. But more importantly, delays and flight cancellations can result in teams losing matches.
The ace lost a game in 2018 after dealing with more than 25 hours of delays and layoffs on their way to Washington, D.C. to play Mystics. They arrived just four hours before their game. Myrtle pointed to health concerns As a reason not to play and they were The first team in league history to lose a game. Las Vegas missed the playoffs, finishing one game behind the Dallas Wings.
“I definitely think having charters is a negative effect on people being able to take better care of their bodies and rest,” said Aces guard Sidney Coulson. “And then you have better matches to watch because people are comfortable and injury-free.”
For players who have played college basketball in major programs in the United States, the special finals travel is a welcome return to base, as many of their schools have offered charter flights to all games.
“There aren’t many times I ever remember when we flew on a commercial flight,” said ace striker Teresa Plaisance, who played for Louisiana State University. “And when you get to the WNBA, and you’re going to your middle seat in the Southwest — sometimes it’s really hard to swallow that pill and think like, ‘Oh, that’s my progress. I went from college to get into a professional league, and I have to go back in time.”
For Peter Feeney, The Sun’s director of basketball operations, who has handled all of the logistics of the trips for the past four years, the simplicity of the travel had blown his mind, he said. Vinny usually arrives at airports an hour before the team to make sure they can pass through security without any hiccups. But on two charter flights, they got on the plane less than an hour before takeoff, and the flight crew took care of almost everything.
The moment made Feeney realize that if the league switched to charter flights for the entire season, he would become less useful in his role. But he also works as a video moderator, so he welcomes the idea. “That’s a good problem, isn’t it?” He said while laughing.
Aces striker Aja Wilson, Who spoke frankly about the WNBA’s travel problemshe said the players talked about what life would be like if charter flights were normal after they took a comfortably cross-country flight to Connecticut from Las Vegas for Game Three on Thursday.
“We need it,” Wilson said. “We need to be able to fly that way after every game. I can only imagine how my body would feel if we did. So, I think it’s a huge deal for us to do that. We need to keep pushing it.”