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'We're trying to move the needle': WNBA investigating LVCVA's sponsorship of Aces players

Callie Lawson-Freeman, Las Vegas Review-Journal on

Published in Basketball

The WNBA is opening an investigation into the Aces one day after the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority announced it was sponsoring the team’s 12 rostered players, a league source confirmed to the Review-Journal on Saturday.

News of the probe broke during the fourth quarter of the Aces’ 89-82 home win over the Los Angeles Sparks. Steve Hill, LVCVA President and CEO, was at Michelob Ultra Arena for the game. When informed of the investigation, Hill said he hadn’t been contacted by the league.

“We did this the right way,” Hill said Saturday of the move to pay each individual player $100,000. “We’re happy to answer any questions they have.”

The arrangement

Hill, in a video posted on X, surprised the Aces players with the sponsorship offers after Friday’s practice. He told the team the only requirements of the deal were to “just play” and represent the city.

That statement, though incomplete, could be what drew a raised eyebrow from the WNBA.

 

Hill told the Review-Journal on Friday the LVCVA entered separate sponsorship agreements with individual Aces players without the knowledge of the team. The agency did so by talking with each’s player’s representation, Hill said. He compared the sponsorships to name, image and likeness deals for college athletes.

One issue could be the fine print of the WNBA’s collective bargaining agreement. It prohibits teams and team affiliates from entering into an understanding in 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 said Friday players signed contracts mandating them to “reach mutually agreeable opportunities for appearances on (the city’s) behalf.” He also said players would be expected to wear gear provided by the LVCVA.

That seems to fall within the WNBA’s guidelines. The CBA says an example of a prohibited agreement would include compensation from a sponsor or third party that “is substantially in excess of the fair market value of any services to be rendered by the player.”

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