October 10, 2021 

WNBA will charter flights to Game 3 of the finals

Commissioner Engelbert shares key league updates and priorities during state of the league press conference

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert spoke to the media Sunday ahead of Game 1 of the league finals between the Phoenix Mercury and Chicago Sky. Engelbert shared several updates about the state of the league, including a timely update about travel details for Game 3 of the finals series.

“We will arrange and cover the cost of a charter flight for both teams to Chicago between game two and three,” Engelbert said. “As you know we did this in 2019 on a west to east [coast flight] with no days rest in between. We have that fact pattern this year here in the finals. And so that’s something that I know is important to our players and, you know, player health and safety.”

WNBA players advocated for better travel conditions as part of the league’s ground-breaking Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in 2020. The CBA secured premium economy seating for players, but athletes still have to navigate flight delays and other air travel headaches. The CBA forbids investment in charter flights from team ownership, however, to avoid advantages for teams who can afford those costs.

Commissioner addresses playoff format and league expansion

Engelbert also addressed other priorities during the pre-Game 1 media availability, including the league’s playoff format. Since 2016, the WNBA playoffs have been single-elimination in the first and second rounds; followed by best-of-five series in the semifinals and finals. The Commissioner pointed to the possibility of a format change in the coming months.

“We’re getting a lot of input and feedback. But you know, again, it’s not as easy as just changing the format,” Engelbert said in response to a question from ESPN‘s Mechelle Voepel. “There’s a lot of logistics to doing that, and broadcast windows and arena dates and things like that. So we’re going to be very thoughtful about it. But we’ve been having significant discussion since coming off of the last offseason. And I think we’ll be in a position to make a decision whether we stay with the current format or change it over the course of the next few months.”

This season, the 5-seed Phoenix and 6-seed Chicago took advantage of the single-elimination format by ousting the 2-seed Las Vegas and 1-seed Connecticut, respectively, to advance to the semifinals. The depth of talent in the league has caused some fans to push Engelbert on league expansion. Sports Illustrated‘s Ben Pickman asked the Commissioner about the possibility of expansion.

“It’s an active data analysis that we’re doing,” Engelbert said. “Some of the metrics that you look at: our D-1 college basketball–how popular it is, viewership of current WNBA games in those markets that don’t have a WNBA team, merch sales in that market…in the spring into the summer next year into the 2022 season, we’ll be sharing more. But you know, the data looks like it’s going to read out, you know, some interesting information for us to start having exploratory discussions with certain cities, and make sure that we can find great ownership groups to support a WNBA team and great fan bases.”

In its 25th season, the WNBA delivered its most-watched season since 2008. Viewership of the 2021 playoffs is up 78% from the 2020 playoffs, and 54% from the 2019 playoffs.

Written by Tee Baker

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