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Monday, June 24, 2024

WNBA Investigating Las Vegas Tourism Arm’s $100K Payments to Aces Players

  • It’s the second year in a row the Aces are under investigation. 
  • The sponsorship does not violate WNBA salary cap rules but may challenge the spirit of them. 
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

One of the early highlights of the WNBA’s season is now under scrutiny. 

On Friday, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority made waves on social media when Steve Hill, its president and CEO, told the Aces it will provide a $100,000 sponsorship to each member of the roster for the 2024 and ’25 seasons. 

The gesture is now under investigation by the league, WNBA officials confirmed to ESPN.

It’s the second time in as many seasons the Las Vegas Aces are under investigation after allegations of extra benefits to players and accusations by current Los Angeles Sparks forward Dearica Hamby, who said the team traded her because she was pregnant. (Hamby has filed a lawsuit saying the Aces discriminated against her, and coach Becky Hammon was suspended two games for her treatment of Hamby.) 

On Saturday, after a win over the Sparks, Hammon said the organization has nothing to do with the sponsorships because the LVCVA negotiated directly with player representatives for the deals. 

“I’m going to put it to you real simple like this: Most of sponsorship people go after the top two people,” Hammon said, referring to A’ja Wilson and Kelsey Plum. “In this situation, from what I understand, is they wanted the whole team. … I don’t know the details. I have nothing to do with it; the Aces don’t have anything to do with it. It’s just odd, but that’s basically what happened.”

The $100,000 sponsorship is more than six players’ salaries, including rookie Kate Martin, who makes $67,249. It’s no small change to players such as Plum or Wilson, who make $200,000 as the team’s highest-paid players and are adding half their salary to their income. While the endorsement does not violate the league’s salary cap, according to ESPN, because the LVCVA didn’t involve the Aces, the league’s investigation stems from the possibility that it could give the Aces an undue advantage in free agency.

Wilson said she viewed the sponsorship as a byproduct of growing the game. 

“When we’re talking about growing the game … taking that next step, it can’t always be ‘investigate, investigate, investigate,’” Wilson said Saturday. “It has to be like, ‘We’re trying to move the needle. We’re trying to make things better for franchises, for players, for teams.’”

As part of the investigation into how the team treated Hamby, the Aces also lost a 2025 first-round draft pick.

Despite the investigation, the Aces still repeated as WNBA champions. 

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