Saturday, May 25, 2024
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NWSL vibe check: Fixture congestion, when charter flights might consistently arrive and more

Vibe check is back! The place where you can get an insider’s view and my unfiltered takes on all things women’s soccer. The NWSL welcomed the return of mid-week matches to kick off May, more and more games will be airing on CBS Sports platforms, and one game was already affected by a lengthy weather delay in what’s been an eventful start to the season. A new month also means a new phase of the regular season for all 14 clubs, and some teams have officially played eight matches, saying farewell to a quarter of the campaign. Before we know it, summer will be here and with it will come the Olympics and multiple cup competitions. 

So let’s get right to it:

Fixture congestion and charter flights

Kansas City Current will close out their long road trip on Sunday, capping off three games in eight days, with travel from Kansas City, to Houston, Seattle, and North Carolina. The Current kicked off their travel with a four-hour rain delay during halftime in Houston. Kansas City’s head coach Vlatko Andonovski was transparent about the after-effects on his squad.

“Obviously, we missed the flight. So we gotta we gotta figure [that] out now. We don’t have a hotel. We gotta figure out our hotel. We don’t have flights for tomorrow. We gotta figure out flights. We had trainings for some players that we believe needed training time to be able to perform on Wednesday,” he said.

“There’s so many things on the training scheduled in Seattle, so we’re not going to be able to do that. Obviously, we lost the whole day of opportunity to recover. So the schedule, like I said, it’s already challenging to start off with. We have by far the worst schedule in the league, and this just made it even worse.”

Due to the tight timeline, the Current were ultimately allowed to take a charter flight to Seattle, with Andonovski thanking ownership for their efforts to get the team to the Pacific Northwest. The flight was issued league approval, as the franchise was previously fined for using an unauthorized charter plane in 2023. The prior fine was reported to be over $50,000. The league does have a charter flight policy in place, but it is not available publically.

Conversations around the use of charter flights in NWSL have amplified recently with the WNBA’s recent headlines that the women’s pro basketball league would begin the use of charter flights for players beginning this season. The program will cost about $25 million per year over the next two seasons.

It’s a rapid turnaround from just last month when WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert stated the league would pay for charter flights for all playoff games and back-to-back travel scenarios that required air travel, with the majority of flights still set to be commercial lines. With NWSL’s charter policy still secret, there’s no public knowledge on whether there are more or less restrictions from the 2023 season to the current 2024 regular season. 

The collective bargaining agreement angle

The NWSL Players Association’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, which runs through 2026, doesn’t include guidelines on the use of charter flights but does touch on travel arrangements. Section 12.1 of the CBA references lengthy travel greater than 350 miles “shall be by air on regular commercial carriers,” and states that teams should make “reasonable efforts” to book direct flights and avoid middle seats for players.

The only recent public acknowledgment about the possibility of charter flight use in NWSL was by league commissioner Jessica Berman ahead of the 2022 NWSL Championship final in Washington D.C.

“I think there’s a time and a place for charter flights, and I think everybody universally could recognize that they’re insanely expensive,” Berman said. “We need to be thoughtful about how and when they’re used, and be clear with our teams about what our position is and work on this together.”

Not quite the ringing endorsement for charter flight use in NWSL back in 2022, and in 2024 it’s only slightly disappointing from a league that swears by being leaders in women’s pro sports space, who sometimes takes examples from WNBA. See the NWSL’s recent broadcast deal as an example of seeing what worked for one league and applying it. More eyeballs meant putting games in more places, including CBS Sports platforms and the launch of their own streaming service, NWSL+.

Never say never

Whether or not there is wiggle room for charter use at the moment is dependent on travel and scheduling circumstances. Kansas City’s experience navigating the use of charters has already given us a primary glimpse of navigating their use. 

Still, with the current CBA in place through 2026, it’s a timeline that works in favor of the league. The CBA phrasing around air travel has bought the league some time till the next time charter flights become a more serious conversation, a likely important topic during the next round of negotiations.   

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