The New York Liberty are courting potential new owners.
At least two different groups that are considering buying the WNBA team were at the Liberty’s home opener in Westchester County last Friday.
“I happened to see Brandon (Steiner) and a couple other people who are interested,” WNBA President Lisa Borders told The Associated Press in an interview Sunday. “The good news about that is we have good relations with all of them. Everyone is still apparently interested.”
Borders spent a few minutes chatting with Steiner, a sports marketer and leading sports memorabilia collector. Steiner did not immediately return an email from the AP seeking comment on buying the team.
Neither Liberty nor Madison Square Garden officials would comment on specific possible ownership groups, but an MSG spokesman did say that the company “is continuing to have productive discussions with several prospective ownership groups and remains committed to finding the right steward for the team’s long-term success in New York.”
“To have people interested in buying the Liberty, that’s a really good sign for the W,” the league president said.
James Dolan and Madison Square Garden put the franchise up for sale last winter but couldn’t find a suitable buyer. So Dolan retained ownership of the team while still looking for a new owner.
Though Borders was chatting up potential new owners, she made it clear that it’s not up to the league to decide who buys the team.
“It’s Mr. Dolan’s call,” she said. “They are the last original WNBA franchise ownership group and have done an incredible job. We know that the team is for sale and we know it has to be run, and run well.”
Dolan, who has owned the team since the WNBA’s inception in 1996, moved the franchise this year from Manhattan to the Westchester County Center in the suburbs for all but two home games. The two Kids Day games, which are usually close to a sellout, still will be played at MSG.
The move saves millions of dollars in operating costs for the Liberty because the Garden costs nearly 20 times as much to play in as the Westchester County Center, though the Liberty will lose some revenue from sponsorships associated with playing at the Garden. MSG said in a statement to the AP that it has “lost money every year since its inception and cumulative losses exceed $100 million.”
The new arena is much smaller than the Garden, with maximum seating at nearly 4,500. The Liberty configured the arena to seat 2,319 fans, a size that will be used for the immediate future.
New York was fourth out of the league’s 12 teams in attendance last year, averaging 9,889 fans, although that number was a combination of paid tickets and complimentary ones. The Liberty say they had fewer than 5,000 fans in paid attendance at most games.
“I understand MSG is a really big venue,” Borders said. “He decided to move in the interim to Westchester. We appreciate the economics. Concerts and other opportunities to use MSG are perhaps better economically.”