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WNBA to interview Las Vegas tourism leader Tuesday regarding sponsorship offer to Aces players

Las Vegas Aces head coach Becky Hammon calls out to players during the first half of an WNBA basketball game against the Minnesota Lynx Tuesday, June 11, 2024, in Las Vegas. (Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via AP)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Las Vegas tourism chief Steve Hill said he will interview Tuesday with the lead investigator who is examining whether WNBA rules were broken when sponsorship deals were offered last month to Las Vegas Aces players.

Hill announced to the players on May 18 they would each receive a $100,000 sponsorship each of the next two years from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The WNBA hired a law firm, Kobre & Kim, to investigate whether the league’s salary-cap rules were circumvented. Founding partner Steven Kobre heads the investigation.

The sponsorship money is more than the average annual value of five Aces players contracts, according to Spotrac.

Hill, CEO and President of the LVCVA, said Monday the authority did everything according to the WNBA’s policies, including working independently of the Aces to arrange the sponsorship agreements. He said “a handful of” contract drafts sent to player agents have been signed.

“We made a commitment to the players and we’re going to follow through on that,” Hill said. “We have not done anything wrong. (The players) have every right to sign a sponsorship agreement. This is a legitimate sponsorship agreement. … We’ve taped all the players and broadcast their image, so we owe them for that. That’s the first deliverable in the deal, so we are moving forward.”

He said the authority did alert the team it planned to offer sponsorships to the players, but did not divulge the details.

Before moving forward, Hill said the Aces informed the LVCVA that it would have to sponsor the team first in order to receive the rights to use the club logo and other properties in any promotional materials. The LVCVA has similar agreements with the NFL’s Raiders and NHL’s Golden Knights, Hill said.

Also, the authority asked the Aces permission to gain access to the locker room to tell the players the news, but that no details were provided other than a sponsorship proposal would be offered. The Aces have said they had no knowledge of the specifics.

Hill said he wasn’t aware of any rules barring the LVCVA from working with the two-time defending champion Aces to set up the announcement that was videotaped and promoted by the authority.

“That’s just a logistics thing,” Hill said.

Hill said under terms that each player receives $25,000 a month, and players who are released or added to the roster would receive money on a prorated basis. Each sponsorship agreement includes four components — the video from the locker room as a promotional tool, a team photo, public appearances and uses of name, image and likeness.

“We’re in the process of working through that with each of the agents,” Hill said.

This isn’t the first time the WNBA has investigated the Aces.

Last year, the WNBA suspended coach Becky Hammon for two games and took away the Aces’ 2025 first-round draft pick because it determined the franchise violated league rules regarding impermissible player benefits and workplace policies.

Hill said he didn’t know where the WNBA’s investigation stood into the sponsorships matter.

“We think this is a very positive step for the team, the league,” Hill said. “We hope we’re raising the bar. We hope that we are maybe opening some minds to the value that has been kind of locked up that we’re trying to unlock with all these players.

“I get completely and understand the need for the league to ask questions. Really the only thing I think the league has said is that they are opening an investigation, which has kind of an ominous tone to the word. I don’t know that they mean it that way or not. I hope not. I think after they investigate, they’re going to say, ‘You know, completely following the rules here and wow, this could be a good thing.’ So, hopefully, they embrace it.”