Liberty to play at Barclays Center starting in 2020

NEW YORK — The New York Liberty will have a new home next year, playing their games at Barclays Center.

Liberty team executives told The Associated Press on Thursday that the franchise will play all its 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 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.”

Playing in Barclays Center is a huge upgrade for the Liberty, who played the past two seasons at the Westchester County Center, where the capacity was set for just over 2,000 fans but was rarely sold out.

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.

New WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said many times since starting her job in July that the Liberty should play in a venue that’s fit for 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,” Engelbert 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 looked at a few other venues, but it was apparent that Barclays was the right place.

Barclays will open up the lower bowl for most games, creating a capacity of over 8,000 with the option to expand if needed. New York played one regular-season game against Seattle in Barclays last season and it drew well, with 7,715 fans in attendance.

“I think it’s really exciting times for the Liberty,” Liberty chief operating officer Keia Clarke said. “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.”

Liberty players were living in Brooklyn last year, after living in Westchester for many years to be closer to the team’s practice facility. They will be able to walk to the arena from their apartments and be active in the community.

Clarke said the Liberty will share a lot of 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 at the helm 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 to not bring back Smith.

One thing that won’t change is the team’s name.

“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,” Clarke said. “Why would you change that name? A lot of fans love that brand name.”

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