The owners of the WNBA’s New York Liberty violated the league’s collective bargaining agreement in order to assist their players, including a Napa vacation and charter flights for all road games during the second half of the season.
Those expenses exceeded the WNBA’s allowable compensation for players, cost the team a league-record $500,000 fine, and forced the removal of executive Oliver Weisberg from the WNBA’s executive committee, according to Sports Illustrated.
The fine seems small compared to the other consequences that Jamin Dershowitz, the league’s general counsel, reportedly floated in September when alerted of the violations. Dershowitz considered:
- Taking away draft picks
- Suspending ownership
- Terminating the franchise
Following a new collective bargaining agreement in 2020, commissioner Cathy Engelbert laid out terms of a private equity investment that would give the league a $50 million cash infusion in exchange for 20% of the league’s total equity at a $200 million valuation — it ended up at $400 million.
Liberty owners Joe Tsai and Clara Wu Tsai, along with other high-worth WNBA owners, didn’t think the investment was enough for the league’s athletes. Joe Tsai, the co-founder of Alibaba and owner of the Brooklyn Nets, and Clara even proposed a way to comp charter flights for all WNBA teams for three years. The proposal did not receive majority support, and the Liberty found themselves on charter flights anyway. (In a statement, the WNBA said: “At no point was there a New York Liberty proposal for the WNBA Board of Governors to consider offering three-years-worth of charter flights for WNBA teams. It was agreed that the Liberty would explore opportunities regarding charter flights and present it to the Board. To date, that has not happened.”)
A league front office member saw that travel details didn’t add up, and the team received demands to cease and desist, leading to the fine.