Las Vegas Aces, wnba

Las Vegas Aces Players Awarded $100K Las Vegas Tourism Sponsorship Deal, Prompting WNBA Investigation

Aces head coach, Becky Hammon, called the investigation 'odd.'

On May 17, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced that it would sponsor the Las Vegas Aces players and subsequently awarded each player on the team with $100,000 in addition to their existing salary. A day later, the WNBA announced that it would be investigating the team, to which members of the team and WNBA fans pushed back.

As The Athletic reports, Aces superstar forward A’ja Wilson and head coach Becky Hammon responded to the investigation in a press conference on May 18, both questioning the league’s regular investigations of the franchise. 

Hammon called the league investigation “odd” and followed up by saying that the LVCVA contacted the players’ agents. “Most sponsorship people go after the top two people,” Hammon said. “In this situation from what I understand, is (the LVCVA) wanted the whole team. So they went and called individuals’ agents. I don’t know the details. I have nothing to do with it. The Aces have nothing to do with it.”

Wilson spoke at length in the press conference about her feelings about the investigation and questioned the league’s commitment to growing the game. 

“I don’t understand that investigation, I haven’t really dived into it yet,” the two-time WNBA MVP said. “I just looked at my phone and was like, oh, wow. Just another thing in the life of the Aces. We can’t ever just start normal. It’s always going to be something and that’s OK.”

Wilson continued, But we’re talking about growing the game. We’re talking about taking that next step; it can’t always be investigate, investigate, investigate. It has to be we’re trying to move the needle, we’re trying to make things better for franchises, for players, for teams. I’m super grateful to be in a franchise, in a city that constantly wants more out of us. That wants us to don’t worry about stuff, just go play and go win and have fun with that.”

As The Next reports, the agreement includes stipulations that the team must appear at certain events and will receive branded gear to wear to promote the city of Las Vegas. In a video posted to the City of Las Vegas’ official Twitter account, the city emphasized that something of this nature has never been done before. The deal, in fact, is not dissimilar to an NIL deal, something Wilson’s college coach, Dawn Staley, jokingly alluded to in a post under the city’s announcement video. 

LVCVA President Steve Hill and the LVCVA arranged the deal without the team’s knowledge specifically to comply with the WNBA’s rules, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. Hill told the outlet that it is similar to arrangements the entity already has with over 100 influencers, including Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson. 

The part of the deal that could be a sticking point for the league is Hill’s statement to the team in the locker room that he essentially wanted the team to just play and represent the city well, and in their analysis of the WNBA’s collective bargaining agreement, the outlet references the document’s prohibition of teams or team affiliates from entering into understandings which “(a) sponsor, business partner or third party pays or agrees to pay compensation for basketball services (even if such compensation is ostensibly designated as being for nonbasketball services) to a player under Contract to the Team.”

Hill, meanwhile, seems to believe that everything will work out in the favor of the players of the Aces, as he told the outlet, “This is a sponsorship agreement with the players of the Aces. When I said we think this is a good deal for us, I meant it. It is our job, and we think that’s going to easily prove out.”

Hill also alluded to the pay discrepancy in the WNBA, saying, “I think everybody understands the moment. Everybody understands this pay discrepancy. What we’re able to do matters to the Aces. I think everyone is going to be happy that this elevates the Aces and elevates all of us.”

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