Mat Ishbia is joining the call for the WNBA to provide teams with charter flights.
The new Phoenix Mercury owner told ESPN on Sunday that he wants the league to start providing charter flights for teams for the entire season, not just specific games.
“I feel like you invest in the players, you invest in the team, you do all the right [things] and money follows,” Ishbia said, via ESPN. “Too many people think about the other way around, and, so, that’s my belief system.
“The WNBA is doing some good things and the commissioner’s doing good things to move it in that direction. And I respect what they’re doing and I’m definitely a supporter of getting there faster and sooner.”
Charter flights in the WNBA has been an issue for years, especially after several high-profile travel issues in recent seasons. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert has said it would cost about $25 million, if not more, to fly each team privately every season, something she doesn’t see as feasible just yet. The league has started chartering flights for the WNBA playoffs and back-to-back regular season games.
New York Liberty owner Joe Tsai was fined last year after he started flying the team privately in 2021. The league even reportedly considered terminating the franchise over the issue.
Currently, the use of charter flights is a violation of the WNBA’s collective bargaining agreement.
“Everything matters. Every inch matters,” Ishbia said, via ESPN. “I don’t know if it’s the middle seat, whether it’s walking through a big airport, whether it’s having a bus somewhere, I don’t know what the inch is, but we want to fix all the inches to give us a best chance and that’s what we want to do. And so we got to follow all the rules. As the owner here, I learned a lot of the rules and make sure I follow them exactly to the T, and we’ll make sure we follow all the rules.
“But we’re going to make sure we do everything within our power, within the rules to make it of our women, our players have the best chance to [play at their] peak performance, whether it’s medically, whether it’s rest-wise, whether it’s in the hotels … I’m pushing all of the envelopes to make sure that our team has all the best of everything.”
It gets even more complicated when it comes to the Mercury specifically, too. Star Brittney Griner, who recently spent about 10 months in a Russian prison, returned to the court on Friday after missing all of last season. It’s unclear how she will be traveling this season with the Mercury, though it’s assumed she will have to fly privately due to safety concerns. It’s unclear how she traveled to their season opener in Los Angeles.
“We’re doing everything we possibly can to make sure BG feels wonderful, feels safe, all our players feel that way,” Ishbia said, via ESPN. “And I think there’s a lot of things that we’ve done a great job of doing to put those concerns at ease.”