The Liberty is one of the eight original teams in the WNBA, but the preparation for their 22nd season didn’t go as planned. Last November, it was announced that the owners, the Madison Square Garden Company and James Dolan, were looking to sell the team. But, after they couldn’t find a buyer within a few months, it was decided that the Liberty would no longer play (most of) their home games in the Garden.
The games wouldn’t even be played in the city of New York, but in the Westchester County Center in White Plains, just outside of the city. And if that wasn’t enough of a shock for the players and the fans, the head coach Bill Laimbeer, decided to leave the Liberty after five years and continue his career with the Las Vegas Aces. So, at the start of the season, everything was different for the Liberty. They didn’t have the security to stay in NY anymore, lost their head coach and they were no longer really welcome in the Madison Square Garden.
Last season, the Liberty averaged just below 10.000 visitors per game, which doesn’t really sound good by the Garden’s standard, as almost 20.000 people can be seated, but it’s quite good by the WNBA’s standards. Furthermore, their attendance rate was the fourth highest in the league. Their new home, the Westchester County Center, which is also the home of the Westchester Knicks, can only seat 5.000 people. This means that, even if all the normal Liberty fans would still want to visit the games, they wouldn’t fit into the arena.
Moving a team to a different arena seems to be a trend in the WNBA, as the Washington Mystics were also moved to a different arena. The Mystics had a lot less average visitors per game than the Liberty, around 7.000 per game, but their new arena only seats 4.200. It’s quite strange, as both moves seem to indicate that it isn’t going well with the WNBA, while that is definitely not the case. The average attendance rate was actually the highest since 2011, and the social media of the WNBA grew by 14%.
Though this is a start with a lot of insecurity for the New York Liberty, the players have made clear they’re ready for their games and will do everything to win. Katie Smith, a future WNBA hall of famer, and the Liberty’s assistant coach for the last 4 years, has taken over the head coaching duties. They had a decent start to the season, as they lost the first two games by only a few points, but their first win came on Tuesday, which has to be the example for the rest of the season.