Column: The case for Barclays Center to be the new home court of the Liberty

For much of its history, the New York Liberty have called Madison Square Garden home. For three seasons while MSG underwent renovations, the Libs hooped across the Hudson River to Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.

And for the last couple of seasons, their home has been White Plains’ Westchester County Center, a nearly century-old venue that’s about a 1-2 hour Metro North Harlem line trip from Grand Central that seats a mere 2,300. That is a far distance from what the team could draw (and did draw) at MSG and The Pru.

For Lib Loyals, when the announcement came that Joe Tsai was purchasing the team from James Dolan and MSG, it was enough for many to throw a parade down the Canyon of Heroes with the knowledge that their Liberty were no longer under the Dolan umbrella.

Many connected the dots about Tsai because they knew at the time he was the Brooklyn Nets’ minority owner and he apparently had his sights set on purchasing the remaining shares of the team he did not own.

Last month, he did just that along with buying out the Nets home court, Barclays Center, outright.

Ever since the sale to Tsai was announced and made official, the Libs’ new found Nets connections are becoming more pronounced. The team has placed more emphasis on its signature black color (as opposed to the green under MSG), it played on a new court at Westchester County Center which also put more emphasis on the black instead of the green (ala Brooklyn), its games were carried via the Nets’ television partner YES Network or the Fox Sports Go app and more Nets websites, including NetsRepublic and NetsDaily (another SB Nation site ala Swish Appeal) are devoting resources to covering the Liberty.

That Nets connection would be completely entrenched if it is announced that a move from Westchester to Barclays were to be official. A few months ago, it was even discussed that a split schedule between Barclays and Nassau Coliseum – the home court of the G-League’s Long Island Nets was being discussed, but the concern with Nassau appears to be the same concern many had with Westchester – too far away from the core of the Liberty’s fanbase in New York City.

If one were to poll the majority of Liberty fans, they will likely tell you they would love to see the team leave Westchester for the more desirable (and accessible) pastures of Brooklyn. Ultimately, it is the team’s call, but with Tsai now owning the venue outright, some are wondering what the hold up is.

No matter how one slices it, when all options are explored, Barclays is the most logical option for the team going forward. Aside from it being the most popular, there are several other reasons why the arena at Atlantic and Flatbush is a venue more than suitable for hosting the WNBA’s flagship franchise.

1). Growing the fanbase

Notice what WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert has said in recent interviews about how the WNBA’s fanbase needs to grow? That is a far distance from the praise heaped on the County Center by former league president Lisa Borders, who commented that the County Center presented an atmosphere similar to Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The only advantage of the County Center is that it is still in the New York market. And since it is smaller, it does present an atmosphere similar to a college arena. Outside of that, it is no Cameron Indoor.

If one reads between the lines, one may believe Engelbert’s call of growing the New York fanbase whenever the Liberty’s new home is mentioned is a show of support for moving them back into the city (which she herself has strong roots in). That fanbase can only grow so much in Westchester at a venue that seats only 2,300.

2). Access

It is a common maxim in sports and in life that if you build it they will come.

The only thing is building it somewhere that is in a robust area. Westchester did draw its fair share of fans for an arena of its size, but a huge reason why New York drew anywhere from 9,000-12,000 per season at Madison Square Garden is because it is easily accessible by the city’s primary mode of transportation – subways.

Barclays has this same advantage. There are 10 of the MTA’s subway lines that travel through the stadium, meaning access will be no problem for the core of its city-based fanbase.

How many stories did we see of Liberty fans that felt abandoned by the Westchester move? How many stories did we see of Liberty fans unable to attend games in Westchester? Plenty. That will not be a problem in Kings County.

3). Attendance

With access comes higher attendance, something the WNBA always strives for.

A sizable portion of New Yorkers know the Liberty exist. More need to, but enough know the team exists for it to have been in the top half (or third) of attendance figures on a consistent basis while the team played in Manhattan.

The Liberty have plummeted to the bottom of the WNBA’s attendance figures since, averaging just under 2,000 fans a game at the County Center and that has hurt the W’s overall attendance figures.

Moving to Barclays, if New York’s lone regular season contest at Atlantic & Flatbush is any indication, will help attendance for the team and league. The Aug. 11 contest vs. the Seattle Storm (an 84-69 Storm victory) drew nearly 8,000 fans. This was for a team that had not played consistently in the city limits since 2017 and for a team that had not experienced the same level of winning success it is used to.

4). It’s not the County Center

Look, the Westchester County Center served its purpose as a last resort for a team that we did not even know would be in New York past the Dolan/MSG days. But the reality is the County Center existed as a WNBA venue in 2018 because Dolan hoped it would fast-track a sale.

It turns out it didn’t as a buyer was not announced for roughly more than a year after the team was put on the market after the 2017 season.

And it existed as a WNBA venue in 2019 because the schedule was announced prior to the announcement of said sale.

There were mechanical issues and there were safety issues, but the County Center did give New York a home court for two seasons while the team was in transition to a new owner. Now, it’s time to move on to bigger and better.

5) Tina Charles

The Liberty have the distinction of being one of many teams where the face of its franchise also happens to be a native of its city.

Tina Charles, who became the Libs’ all-time leading scorer in 2019 is from Queens and attended Christ the King High School before playing her college ball at UConn.

She also gained a lot of attention prior to the season for her new documentary, “Charlie’s Records” that debuted in May. The documentary premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival and centers on her father, Rawlston. It included a mention of her father’s Brooklyn record store that opened in 1972.

That record store is close to Barclays Center.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *