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Nets minority owner buys WNBA’s Liberty

January 23, 2019

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Liberty have a new owner and get to keep their NBA ties.

An investment group led by Brooklyn Nets minority owner Joseph Tsai has bought the Liberty, the WNBA announced Wednesday. Terms were not disclosed. Tsai, co-founder of the e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, bought a 49 percent interest in the Nets in April.

“We are fortunate to welcome Joe Tsai to the WNBA family at a pivotal time for our league,” WNBA interim president Mark Tatum said in a statement. “As active participants in the New York community, Joe and his team are very well-positioned to take the Liberty to exciting new heights.”

The team will continue to play most of its home games at the Westchester County Center this year. The Liberty will play one game at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the home of the Nets, as a Comm-UNITY Day celebrating community, diversity and inclusion.

“The Liberty and WNBA exemplify what it means to compete at the highest level, serve as role models in the local community, and bring greater opportunities to female athletes,” Tsai said. “Our goal is to continue this important work and help bring the WNBA into its next phase of growth.”

Previous Liberty owner James Dolan put the team up for sale in November 2017. There had been several potential buyers and a few were close to a purchase, but the deals fell through for various reasons.

“As the proud owner of the Liberty for the past 22 years, we are pleased that Joe Tsai will now guide the franchise with a commitment to serving its loyal and passionate fans in New York,” Dolan said.

New York is one of the three original WNBA franchises still in existence, along with the Los Angeles Sparks and the Phoenix Mercury.

The team said before last season it had “lost money every year since its inception and cumulative losses exceed $100 million.” The franchise played most of its home games in 2018 at the suburban Westchester County Center, which saved the team a lot of money. Operating costs were nearly 20 times less than playing at Madison Square Garden, its previous home.

The team dropped from fourth in attendance in 2017 to last in the league last season, averaging 2,823 fans. That number was even smaller when the two kids’ day games at MSG were taken out, with an average of just 1,886 fans coming to the 15 Westchester dates. The Liberty couldn’t routinely fill the arena, which was configured to hold only 2,319 fans.

Improved play on the court could help draw more fans. The Liberty struggled last season, finishing with the second-worst record in the league. They have the No. 2 pick in the WNBA draft in April.

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Follow Doug Feinberg on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg

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