Caitlyn Clark and WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert pose on draft night--the most watched WNBA telecast in 24 years. | Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

With Caitlin Clark bringing her legions of fans to Indiana, there’s a general feeling that this summer, the WNBA could shatter its previous popularity records and make the rest of the sports world take notice at a level it never has before.

You know who also shares that feeling? WNBA owners.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that for the first time in league history, the WNBA will provide all teams with a full-time charter flights program in 2024. It will begin “as soon as we can logistically get planes in places.”

The league has fought its players over the issue of charter flights for years. As recently as last season, teams could only charter a plane during the playoffs or if they played back-to-back games.

Over that same span of time, numerous players have advocated for chartered flights, with luminaries like Sue Bird stating, “It’s saying your league is so successful, it has the finances to charter flights, which is incredibly expensive.”

Now in 2024, that is exactly the message the WNBA is sending to the sports landscape. During her press conference, Engelbert even informed the media that chartered flights would cost $25 million over a full season.

If you know one thing about sports owners, it’s that they don’t start spending $25 million because they suddenly care about players’ quality of life unless they could figure out a way to get fans to bet on it at DraftKings.

The reason the WNBA finally decided to charter flights is simple: the owners clearly feel that they’re going to get a good return on this investment.

Either ownership believes that the Clark phenomenon is real or they’re at least willing to spend a significant amount of money on it. Either way, in making charter flights a reality, the league is telling its players “The time is now. Let’s go.”

After the 2024 WNBA Draft shattered records with 2.446 million viewers and increased viewership by 307 percent from last year, there’s good reason to believe that the league is about to enter a new reality.

The presence of Clark and fellow stars like Angel Reese led the draft to become the most watched WNBA telecast since 2000. And all they had to do was hold up a jersey. Imagine what the ratings will be like when they actually wear one. 

Then last week, the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics moved their games against Clark and Indiana to bigger arenas in order to accommodate an influx of fans. Considering that Indiana’s first preseason game was a sellout, that seems like a good business decision.

Clark cheers on her teammates in front of a packed crowd during Indiana’s first exhibition game in Dallas. Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

If the WNBA is going to draw these kind of major league numbers, the owners have decided that it’s good for their business to act major league. Hence charter flights.

What’s more, with so much of the league’s future wrapped up in its young stars, charter flights are an investment in players’ physical and mental health.

Since the league will be looking to Clark to keep drawing viewers, it’s important that she has an opportunity to play in the best possible conditions. It would be much harder for her to do that if she had to play a game a few hours after standing in line for the TSA. (Again, knowing sports owners, do you really think any of them would spring for Clear?)

Furthermore, after Brittney Griner was confronted by a right wing influencer wannabe at DFW Airport last season, this decision provides peace of mind that neither she nor any other player will have to endure the threat of that again. 

Players have rejoiced at this long overdue victory. In a statement, WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike proclaimed, “On behalf of the players, I express my appreciation and support for a bold move by the Commissioner and team governors that in turn shows that they understand and value the health and safety of the players. It is time to be transformational. It’s time to bet on women!”

By providing them full-time charter flights, WNBA owners are doing just that. So far, stars like Clark are giving them all the evidence they need that this is a wise decision.