New Mercury owner Mat Ishbia advocates for charter flights

PHOENIX -- Phoenix Mercury owner Mat Ishbia became the latest WNBA owner to support charter flights for teams all season long instead of just during the playoffs or for specific games, telling ESPN on Sunday that he wants the league to move "in that direction."

"I feel like you invest in the players, you invest in the team, you do all the right [things] and money follows," Ishbia said ahead of the Mercury's home opener. "Too many people think about the other way around, and, so, that's my belief system.

"The WNBA is doing some good things and the commissioner's doing good things to move it in that direction. And I respect what they're doing and I'm definitely a supporter of getting there faster and sooner."

In early April, the WNBA announced that it would pay for charter flights for the playoffs and back-to-back regular-season games. Charter flights for just those games would cost around $4.5 million, according to the Associated Press. However, charter flights for every team for an entire season would cost about $25 million.

To Ishbia, it's worth it.

"Everything matters. Every inch matters," he said. "I don't know if it's the middle seat, whether it's walking through a big airport, whether it's having a bus somewhere, I don't know what the inch is, but we want to fix all the inches to give us a best chance and that's what we want to do. And so we got to follow all the rules. As the owner here, I learned a lot of the rules and make sure I follow them exactly to the T, and we'll make sure we follow all the rules.

"But we're going to make sure we do everything within our power, within the rules to make it of our women, our players have the best chance to [play at their] peak performance, whether it's medically, whether it's rest-wise, whether it's in the hotels ... I'm pushing all of the envelopes to make sure that our team has all the best of everything."

New York Liberty star Breanna Stewart made charter flights for the entire league a centerpiece topic of her free agency this past offseason. Back in February, multiple sources told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne that it was assumed that Mercury center Brittney Griner may need to fly privately this season because of security concerns. The Mercury haven't revealed their travel plans for Griner, who's made one road trip this season, Friday to Los Angeles for the season opener.

On Sunday, Ishbia said the Mercury are doing their part to make sure Griner feels safe without going into details.

"We're doing everything we possibly can to make sure BG feels wonderful, feels safe, all our players feel that way," Ishbia said. "And I think there's a lot of things that we've done a great job of doing to put those concerns at ease."

The issue of charters also came to a head last year when the league fined the Liberty $500,000 for chartering flights to away games during the second half of the 2021 WNBA season. The flights were purchased by Liberty owners Joe Tsai, cofounder of the Chinese tech company Alibaba Group, and his wife, Clara.

The WNBA prohibits teams' unauthorized use of charter flights because it violates the collective bargaining agreement between the WNBA and the players' union and could provide a potential unfair competitive advantage over franchises that can't afford charters.