A common metaphor I use a lot can apply to any walk of life when it feels as if life is handing you lemons, do a Beyonce and make lemonade.
No team personifies this attitude in 2018 more than the New York Liberty. Having been jettisoned out of their midtown Manhattan home court of Madison Square Garden and into the Westchester County Center in White Plains, it is a less than usual season so far for Gotham’s WNBA team.
In addition to transitioning to a new home court in the suburbs, there is still the looming question on who will eventually purchase the Liberty from MSG, where they will play long-term, and where will their games be televised.
On the court, it has been a season of hard luck for New York as the Liberty currently stand at 5-11 and would be out of the playoff picture if said postseason were to begin today – new playoff format or old.
I had a chance to be on hand in Westchester when the Liberty took on the Phoenix Mercury—a contest which Phoenix won 83-69. In addition to covering the game, I got a chance first hand to experience professional basketball in Westchester.
The smaller venue, as was mentioned by some W pundits, does provide a more intimate feel – similar to that of a collegiate atmosphere. The smaller venue is also amplified by the fact that there are still the same bells and whistles that goes into the game atmosphere as is the case at the Garden.
Another pro is that it is not as if fans completely stopped showing up to games. Westchester is still drawing its fair share of fans. Some traveled by car, others traveled via Metro-North (full disclosure – I took the Harlem line from Grand Central), but those who eat, sleep, live, and breathe black and statue green have decided to #ShowUp in support of the team.
That written, there is only so much that can be done to replicate the fan experience one gets at MSG and trying to turn Westchester into a “Little Garden” of sorts can only be done to a certain extent.
One also cannot overlook the venue itself. While much has been done to give said White Plains venue a modern feel on the inside, on the outside, it is not exactly the most state of the art in terms of arenas. Which is why watching a game at the stadium and watching a game on MSG Networks or via League Pass can feel at times like night and day.
The biggest pro of the arena is the fact that it is still in the New York City media market. As I wrote a few months ago prior to the start of the season where there was concern that a new owner would move the Liberty out of the New York area altogether, if this is the best that can be done for now, it is the best that can be done for now.
The location may not be as desirable as MSG or even the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but White Plains, New York certainly beats White Plains, Georgia as MTA does not exactly go that far.
The best case scenario for whoever purchases the Liberty from MSG is that they follow the similar method the Chicago Sky used in searching for a new arena. Sky CEO Adam Fox told Beyond The W prior to the start of the season that a major reason why the Sky chose Wintrust Arena in the South Loop for its new home was it was closer to the bulk of the team’s fanbase.
Hopefully, this is the same that will apply to the Liberty. It makes good business sense for Lisa Borders and Adam Silver to make sure the team has a stable future in New York post-MSG because moving a team out of the top media market is not like moving a Tulsa Shock to Dallas Wings or a San Antonio Stars to Las Vegas Aces.
Also, even if there were a worst-case scenario where the team were to move to a San Francisco or another city, New York within one nanosecond of the ink being dry on that move shoots to the top of the expansion conversation.
Back to the County Center — I completely get those who say that the arena is an eyesore and an insult to the sport. I completely get those who wish the Liberty were back in the boroughs – trust me as I am one of those. I completely get those who believe this is phase one in a potential multi-pronged effort by James Dolan to get out of owning sports teams (are you paying attention, Knicks? Rangers?) – there are stories that hint that this could be the case.
In short, the reviews are mixed from where I come from. While the longer-than-usual commute to Westchester may be daunting for a metropolitan area whose main arteries are trains and buses, and while the arena itself is not exactly the Staples Center or Target Center, it does provide a more intimate atmosphere and is still only a hop, skip, and jump from the City.
Overall grade: C
P.S. – I recently read an article in the New York Times that suggests that the County Center is being treated by the Liberty as if it will be their long-term home going forward. If that is the case, the Center which was first built in 1924, needs to resemble an arena that looks like that of a professional basketball franchise.
If the new owner of the Liberty keeps the franchise in New York and White Plains remains their long-term home court, the conversation needs to turn to retrofitting/renovating the County Center into a state of the art venue worthy of hosting the WNBA franchise that plays in its top media market.
The nearly 10,000 the Liberty were drawing at the Mecca (near the top of the heap in W attendance) and the slightly more than 2,300 New York is drawing at WCC is a major difference – there is no question of this. That is why this is where the conversation has to go next. A new arena or a renovated County Center may not get the same numbers as MSG, but one can aim for higher than their current figures. After all, Wintrust can seat 10,000 at capacity.
But that is point B. Point A is hoping that when all of the dust settles from this MSG-Westchester kerfuffle that the recent reports of interest from Tri-State owners remain true and that the New York Liberty remain the New York Liberty.