Commissioner Cathy Engelbert reiterated her focus on WNBA expansion and the league’s charter flight commitment as she spoke at Barclays Center before Sunday’s marquee matchup between the New York Liberty and Las Vegas Aces.
“Obviously, we’re working very hard on expansion,” Engelbert told reporters. “This is really something I think we need to do, not just because of opening up potentially 12 to 24 roster spots, but also with a league that’s the longest-tenured women’s professional league in the country by double any other, we need more than 12 teams.”
Engelbert told Front Office Sports in May that the league’s list for expansion consideration is down to 10 cities to “hopefully work towards expanding in a couple cities by the 2025 season.” Cities under consideration include the Bay Area, Nashville, Toronto, Austin, Denver, Charlotte, Philadelphia, and Portland.
“We need to be in some big cities in this country where all our data and information shows there’s some great markets for WNBA basketball,” Engelbert said Sunday. “We’re excited, capitalizing off NCAA popularity, and hopefully [will] talk more about that as we get further into the season this year.”
The Commissioner emphasized that “there’s no one that wants it more than me” regarding better travel conditions for players. However, getting there will largely depend on increased rights payments from media partners once the WNBA’s current deals end after the 2025 season.
“That’s a whole transformation of an economic model for women’s sports. It’s all about media rights. If you look back in history […] how the men got their benefits and pay, it was all the multi-billion dollar media rights fee deals,” Engelbert said.
She added that the WNBA had spent over $4 million on charter flights this year while players again pleaded for increased charter travel after Brittney Griner’s June incident while flying commercial. Engelbert said last year it would cost more than $20 million a year to fund charter flights for an entire WNBA season.
“I think we have a lot of qualitative factors that hopefully media companies see the value in partnering with us with the next round of media negotiations,” Engelbert said. “That is when we’ll be able to fund something much bigger, but we’ve been chipping away spending over four million dollars—a lot of money for the W—four million dollars this year on charter.”