One of the WNBA’s biggest franchises has been hit with a record $500,000 fine for chartering private flights for players during the 2021 season.
New York Liberty team governors Joe and Clara Wu Tsai—who purchased the team in January 2019—chartered the flights, which along with a Labor Day weekend Napa trip. This violated the WNBA’s bargaining agreement, per Howard Megdal of Sports Illustrated. Joe has previously spoken about travel on Twitter, saying a “constructive solution to this problem” needs to be found.
The Liberty’s $500K fine, Sports Illustrated shared, came after the league reportedly tried to fine the organization $1 million, which was then appealed. Liberty executive Oliver Weisberg is also allegedly being removed from the WNBA’s executive committee as a result. WNBA general counsel Jamin Dershowitz reportedly threatened the “termination of the franchise” and the loss of “every draft pick you have ever seen” in response to the flights that were chartered for every road game during the season’s second half.
As Bleacher Report shares, flight chartering in the WNBA has been an ongoing conversation, with the Liberty previously pushing for it to become standard for team journeys.
“I think what charter flights represent in the world of sports is it gives you a little bit of validation,” Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird said in February. “It’s saying that your league is so successful, it has the finances to charter flights, which is incredibly expensive. There’s not many businesses that just charter flights left and right. … So I think for a lot of us, it would just be an indicator of that. It’d be an indicator of financial success.”
Liberty alternate governor Oliver Weisberg wrote back in September that “the focus on objecting to better travel arrangements seems to go against the spirit of what the entire League is trying to achieve under the leadership of WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert.”
“We cannot begin to talk about gender equity until we solve some pressing issues that have put extra burdens on the health and well-being of WNBA players,” stated Weisberg. “In the spirit of improving working conditions for our female athletes, we are of the strong belief that WNBA teams should be permitted to arrange travel that is consistent with the fact that they are professional athletes.”