- Alibaba Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai is the owner of the WNBA’s New York Liberty.
- The billionaire businessman wants to help the league improve team travel following a few disasters.
- He tweeted October 1 that he’s working with the WNBA to find airline sponsors for chartered flights.
Joe Tsai is putting his money — and his connections — where his mouth is.
The billionaire businessman known best as the Executive Vice Chairman of Chinese tech giant Alibaba is also the owner of the WNBA’s New York Liberty and the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets. He’s been a vocal proponent of women’s sports equity ever since he bought the Liberty in January 2019, and now, he’s trying to funnel resources into his franchise and beyond to benefit the entire league.
Tsai’s latest target? Commercial airplane travel.
—Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) June 9, 2019
For years, WNBA teams have run into travel disaster after travel disaster while trying to fly from city to city for games. Most recently, Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller — the league’s 2021 Coach of the Year — spoke out about his team’s grueling travel schedule during the Sun’s WNBA semifinal series against the Chicago Sky.
Miller’s squad split up to take three flights departing from two airports ahead of Sunday’s Game 3 matchup in the Windy City, ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel reported. The team was looking to avoid having its players — eight of whom measure more than six feet tall — cram their long legs into middle seats just days before a pivotal contest.
Former Washington Mystics player Tayler Hill and her son, Maurice, get some sleep on the shoulder of teammate Tierra Ruffin-Pratt while sitting in coach on a 2015 commercial flight.
Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images
“I want you guys to hear this,” Miller said in his postgame news conference at Mohegan Sun Arena following Connecticut’s Game 2 victory. “That’s what this league goes through. That’s what these amazing women — the best in the world at what they do — go through.”
To Tsai, that’s unacceptable. He took to Twitter on October 1 in response to Voepel’s report and wrote that it’s “time to find a constructive solution to this problem!”
“League says you can’t fly charter because different owners have different financial circumstances,” Tsai wrote in a follow-up tweet. “I’m working with Commissioner [Cathy] Englebert to find a charter sponsor.”
“Conversations with airline CEOs going well,” he added. “They get the idea of equity for women athletes.”
—Joe Tsai (@joetsai1999) October 2, 2021
The WNBA declined to comment, but Tsai’s comments certainly imply that he and the league’s top brass have something in the works. In the meantime, the semifinals will continue Wednesday night as all four remaining teams face off. The Sky and the Phoenix Mercury both have an opportunity to secure a spot in the finals, while the Sun and Las Vegas Aces are facing elimination.
The finals, which are scheduled to tip-off October 10, will necessarily feature teams from opposite corners of the country. It’s possible — if not likely — that teams will continue to endure travel woes even as they compete for a title, though the league could possibly intervene.
In 2019, the WNBA offered to foot the bill for charter flights for two semifinal teams. Perhaps scheduling or public pressure will once again force the league’s hand this season — particularly if franchises separated by thousands of miles are set to face off in the finals.
—Matt Ellentuck (@mellentuck) September 15, 2019
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