‘Flight advertising they say’: Breanna Stewart condemns WNBA’s refusal to use charter flights

Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart (No. 30) blames WNBA's urge to fly advertising for her recent positive COVID-19 test

Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart (No. 30) blames WNBA's urge to fly advertising for her recent positive COVID-19 test

Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart blames the WNBA’s push to fly advertising for her recent positive COVID-19 test.

Stewart and teammate Epiphanny Prince were both eliminated from Wednesday night’s game in Phoenix for having put in place the competition’s health and safety protocols, indicating they tested positive for the virus.

Stewart tweeted in response to that announcement: ‘Fly commercial they say…’

Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart (No. 30) blames WNBA's urge to fly advertising for her recent positive COVID-19 test

Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart (No. 30) blames WNBA's urge to fly advertising for her recent positive COVID-19 test

Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart (No. 30) blames WNBA’s urge to fly advertising for her recent positive COVID-19 test

Stewart and teammate Epiphanny Prince were both eliminated from Wednesday night's game in Phoenix for having put in place the competition's health and safety protocols, indicating they tested positive for the virus.  Stewart tweeted in response to that announcement: 'Fly commercial they say...'

Stewart and teammate Epiphanny Prince were both eliminated from Wednesday night's game in Phoenix for having put in place the competition's health and safety protocols, indicating they tested positive for the virus.  Stewart tweeted in response to that announcement: 'Fly commercial they say...'

Stewart and teammate Epiphanny Prince were both eliminated from Wednesday night’s game in Phoenix for having put in place the competition’s health and safety protocols, indicating they tested positive for the virus. Stewart tweeted in response to that announcement: ‘Fly commercial they say…’

The WNBA’s reliance on commercial flights, as opposed to charters, has been a major point of contention between players and the league. For example, when it was revealed on Tuesday that Mystics security guard Natasha Cloud tested positive, the Washington star posted a similar message on Twitter.

“Shoutout to the @WNBA for advertising us during a pandemic,” she wrote. “(And no mask mandates) Go mystics.”

The federal mask mandate was lifted by the FAA last month, potentially increasing players’ risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

In March, the WNBA fined the New York Liberty $500,000 for secretly using charter flights during the 2021 season in violation of the league’s collective bargaining agreement. Sports Illustrated reported at the time that Liberty was making eight charter flights, including a trip to Napa, California.

Upgrading travel is a focus for the union, but Commissioner Cathy Engelbert (pictured) told the New York Times in March it's not a possibility if it threatens the

Upgrading travel is a focus for the union, but Commissioner Cathy Engelbert (pictured) told the New York Times in March it's not a possibility if it threatens the

Upgrading travel is a focus for the union, but Commissioner Cathy Engelbert (pictured) told the New York Times in March it’s not a possibility if it threatens the “financial health of the league.”

The CBA allows players to fly in premium economy, but views first-class tickets and charter flights as an unfair competitive advantage because some teams can’t afford such luxuries — and that fact could hurt the organization in the eyes of free agents.

The downside for players is more than just potential exposure to COVID-19. Teams in the NBA-owned WNBA often make multiple connecting flights for road games, while their male counterparts fly direct, significantly reducing travel time.

Liberty owner Joe Tsai expressed concerns about the policy in October 2021.

“League says you can’t charter because different owners have different financial circumstances,” Tsai tweeted in October. ‘I work together with the commissioner’ [Cathy] Englebert to find a charter sponsor. Conversations with airline CEOs are going well. They get the idea of ​​equality for female athletes.’

But progress has apparently stalled in this area. In March, Engelbert estimated that it would cost the WNBA an additional $20 million per season to fly all 12 teams on charter flights, and that price doesn’t necessarily reflect rising fuel prices.

In response, union official Terri Jackson said she believes a solution can be reached: “The competition is young, but old enough. We can figure this out.’

Washington's Natasha Cloud (pictured) is one of many players targeting WNBA travel issues

Washington's Natasha Cloud (pictured) is one of many players targeting WNBA travel issues

Washington’s Natasha Cloud (pictured) is one of many players targeting WNBA travel issues

Like Stewart, Washington's Natasha Cloud blamed commercial flights for her positive test

Like Stewart, Washington's Natasha Cloud blamed commercial flights for her positive test

Like Stewart, Washington’s Natasha Cloud blamed commercial flights for her positive test

Not only has the league been criticized by its players, but NBA stars such as Portland Trail Blazers Josh Hart also targeted the WNBA.

“This sucks and @WNBA you guys need to get better,” Hart tweeted on March 1.

The problem has been so bad in the past that some players paid their own money to upgrade their seats, including 6-foot tall Liz Cambage, a perennial All-Star now in her first season with the Los Angeles Sparks.

Upgrading travel remains a focus for the union, but Engelbert told the New York Times in March it’s not a possibility if it threatens the “financial health of the competition.”

“We’re trying to build revenue and financial models that support better things for the players in the long run, but we can’t afford this today,” she said.

Engelbert has not disclosed earnings from the league, but said the WNBA alone is valued at $475 million and over $1 billion, including all 12 franchises.

Jackson said the union is trying to make small changes that won’t jeopardize long-term viability.

“We did not enter into negotiations to break the bank,” she told the Times. “We care too much about this competition. But we want to be supported. The players want to be supported and appreciated, not abused.’

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