Liberty to leave Westchester, play at Barclays starting in 2020Posted: Updated:
NEW YORK (AP) - The New York Liberty will have a new home next year - Barclays Center.
Team executives told The Associated Press on Thursday the Liberty will play all their home games at the Brooklyn arena that houses the Nets. The building was recently purchased by Liberty owner Joe Tsai, who also owns the Nets.
"We are committed to the Liberty's long-term success in New York and relocating the team to Brooklyn will provide the franchise with tremendous opportunity," said David Levy, CEO of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center, as well as president of J Tsai Sports.
"With many of our fans based in the five boroughs, moving to Barclays Center will make the Liberty more centrally located, allowing us to bring back the original fan base and attract new supporters. The venue change, along with the first pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft, has positioned the team for an exciting future."
Barclays is a huge upgrade for the Liberty. The team played the past two seasons at Westchester County Center, where capacity was more than 2,000 and sellouts were rare. The move to Westchester came as former owner James Dolan was looking to sell the team and save money. Playing at Madison Square Garden - the Liberty's home for most of the time since the franchise was formed in 1997 - cost about 20 times more than playing in Westchester.
"We wouldn't have done this if we didn't think it would be profitable," Levy said.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has said many times since starting her job in July that the Liberty should play in a venue befitting a WNBA franchise.
"The New York Liberty are part of the foundation of the W and have many of the most accomplished players and passionate fans since the inaugural season," she said. "Barclays Center is the perfect venue to host New York's team and showcase world-class women's basketball. This move is key to driving the league to the next level."
Levy said the ownership group did look at a few other venues, but it was apparent Barclays was the right place.
"It came to be smart to bring it to Barclays Center," Levy said. "Where it's located, the community it's in. There are additional opportunities and there's the infrastructure in place."
Barclays will open the lower bowl for most games, creating a capacity of more than 8,000, with the option to expand. New York played one regular-season game against Seattle in Barclays this past season and it drew well with a crowd of 7,715.
"I think it's really exciting times for the Liberty," said Keia Clarke, the Liberty's chief operating officer. "I've been with the team for some time - this being my ninth season - and there is really a lot of positive change. It's an increased opportunity for us. Playing in a professional caliber arena is important to our fans. We certainly aim to recreate that kind of atmosphere (from the Garden) as we move forward."
The Liberty players were living in Brooklyn last year, after living in Westchester for many years to be closer to the practice facility. They will be able to walk to the arena from their apartments and be active in the community.
"Community is part of the Liberty DNA. They spend their time at restaurants, walk through that community," Clarke said. "Reinserting ourselves in the boroughs is a great thing for the players and staff alike."
Clarke said the Liberty will share many assets with the Nets. The staff will have offices at the Nets' training facility.
"We've been a team in flux. To have a home and to finally plant roots feels really good," Clarke said. "I'm extremely excited where we're heading and excited to see how our fans continue to support us."
The team will have a new coach after the Liberty decided not to renew the contract of Katie Smith on Wednesday.
"I would say there's no rhyme or reason to it," Clarke said of the timing of the coaching decision.
One thing that won't change is the team's name - the New York Liberty.
"We thought about it, but that's a storied franchise and it was one of the original teams, one of the most well-known WNBA teams." Levy said. "Why would you change that name? A lot of fans love that brand name."