WNBA commissioner blames gun violence for lack of outdoor fan events during All-Star weekend

All weekend, the WNBA’s All-Stars talked about how the 18th annual game felt different. They described a higher level of attention surrounding the event, better player-thrown parties and an overall feeling of being treated like All-Stars.

Severely lacking, though, were planned fan activities and even the ability to purchase tickets to events such as the skills competition and three-point contest, which were held at McCormick Place, not Wintrust Arena. One event specifically, a concert thrown by Chance the Rapper, seemed like a great opportunity to engage Chicago fans.

But WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert didn’t see it that way.

“We would have loved to have opened that up to the public,” she said Sunday. “Because of security concerns dating way back to Mandalay Bay, dating back to other things that have happened here in Chicago, Uvalde and Buffalo, there’s a lot of concern about outdoor events right now unfortunately in our country. So we were just trying to do the best we could.”

Meanwhile, the Taste of Chicago was taking place less than two miles from McCormick Place, where the WNBA’s limited outdoor events were being held.

The general public was unable to attend most major All-Star events outside of the game Sunday. Nike Nationals participants, their families, All-Star players’ families and friends and select Sky season-ticket holders were able to secure tickets to the skills and three-point competitions Saturday. Youth players, corporate partners and players were admitted into the Chance the Rapper concert.

Despite Engelbert expressing concerns about outdoor events, the league’s lone event open to the public, WNBA Live, was held outdoors. The league had been planning the All-Star Game in Chicago since last fall. Engelbert said consultations with security experts, including the Chicago Police Department, led to the league’s decision to limit fan attendance.

Wintrust Arena wasn’t available to the WNBA on Saturday because of a Pampered Chef event, which is a better explanation as to why there were so few fan activities.

“Cobbling together everything that’s going on, coming off two tough COVID years and not having Wintrust available yesterday, it just wasn’t possible to have a fan event,” Engelbert said. “We didn’t have an arena to have it in here in the city of Chicago.”

Championship feelings

The All-Star Game at Wintrust Arena was played in front of a near sold-out crowd of 9,572. Last year during the WNBA Finals, the arena was at maximum capacity with 10,897.

Sky players weren’t on the same team in the game. Kahleah Copper and Emma Meesseman played for Team Stewart, coached by the Sky’s, James Wade, and Candace Parker and Courtney Vandersloot played for the victorious Team Wilson, coached by the Aces’ Becky Hammon.

“Just had Finals feels all over again,” Copper said. “I think the atmosphere was incredible. Especially when Chicago Sky players were being announced. It just felt so amazing to be a part of something so special.”

Copper added that the only thing that will help ease the pain of losing to her teammates is winning another championship.

Changes coming

Engelbert opened her news conference announcing changes on the horizon for the WNBA, beginning with chartered flights for both teams in the WNBA Finals this year and a 50% increase to the postseason bonus pool.

Also, the regular-season schedule will expand from 36 games to 40 next year, and two teams will be added by 2025.

“I’d say probably 10 or 15 cities are very interested in hosting a WNBA team,” Engelbert said. “We’re meeting here and there, I’ll call it with interested ownership groups. We’re looking for the right ownership groups with the right commitment, the right arena situation, the right city to support a WNBA franchise.”

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