The New York Liberty, one of the W.N.B.A.’s original teams, has a new owner. The league announced Wednesday that "an entity owned by Joe Tsai and his family” purchased the Liberty from the Madison Square Garden Company, which had owned the team for its entire 22-year existence.
Tsai is a Taiwanese-Canadian businessman who made billions as co-founder of the Alibaba Group, a Chinese internet titan. He also owns 49 percent of the Brooklyn Nets. The sale has been widely expected since reports of it emerged two weeks ago.
The purchase price was not disclosed.
“As one of New York’s proudest franchises, the Liberty has played a vital role in New York City over the past 22 years,” Tsai said in the statement announcing the sale.
When the W.N.B.A. regular season begins in May, the Liberty will play their home games at the Westchester County Center in White Plains, where they moved last year after playing for two decades at Madison Square Garden. They will also play one game at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
After the season, the Liberty’s future is unknown. The team could play alongside the Nets at Barclays Center. The Long Island Nets, an N.B.A. developmental team, play at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, so that is a possibility. The team could also remain in Westchester or elsewhere in the New York metropolitan area.
It is also not yet known whether Tsai will seek to change the team’s name, or what plans he may have to revive interest in the Liberty, whose attendance fell to last place in the league last season. The Westchester County Center was configured to hold 2,319 people, but the Liberty averaged just 1,886 fans for its 15 games there, according to The Associated Press. Before the move to Westchester last season, the Liberty were regularly averaging more than 9,000 fans per game at the Garden.
A spokeswoman for Tsai declined to make him available for an interview.
The W.N.B.A.’s release announcing the sale came from Mark Tatum, the deputy commissioner of the N.B.A. who is serving double-duty as the W.N.B.A.’s interim president. Lisa Borders, who led the league for three seasons, left in October to become the chief executive of Time’s Up, an advocacy group for women.
Three weeks after Borders left, the union representing W.N.B.A. players announced it was opting out of the league’s collective bargaining agreement, which was set to expire in 2021. Instead, the agreement will terminate on Oct. 31 of this year, after the season, and negotiations are expected to be contentious.
Players have been vocal about their low pay and wanting to improving working conditions in the next collective bargaining agreement. Many W.N.B.A. stars play in Europe during the off-season, where they earn more money. The Las Vegas Aces pulled out of a game last season after they were forced to spend 25 hours traveling.
The league will likely push back hard. When the Madison Square Garden Company announced it was putting the Liberty up for sale in 2017, it claimed to have lost more than $100 million operating the team over the previous two decades.
Email Kevin Draper at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @kevinmdraper.
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