By Doug Feinberg, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — WNBA President Lisa Borders expects the Liberty to stay in New York.
“We understand there is a significant interest in the team,” Borders told The Associated Press in a phone interview Wednesday. “We will have a team in New York. Mr. Dolan and MSG have been a terrific partner for 21 years.”
Borders said that the team is running the sale and referred discussion of potential suitors to the Liberty.
“We want the new owner, whoever she or he is, to have the latitude to make decisions for the team. We don’t want to tie their hands. ... The New York area is important to us. This is our headquarters.”
The Liberty declined to comment Thursday, referring back to their statement earlier this month.
A person familiar with the negotiations told the AP that several potential ownership groups are in discussions with the Liberty. The groups are preparing bids and have agreed to non-disclosure agreements as part of the bidding process. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no public comments were authorized.
The Madison Square Garden Company earlier this month announced that it plans to sell the Liberty, one of the WNBA’s original teams. MSG chairman James Dolan is the final original owner of a franchise dating back to the league’s beginning in 1997.
“We have been a strong and vocal advocate for the Liberty and the WNBA since the beginning. As the last original owner, I am proud of how far the league has come, and the role we have played in its growth,” Dolan said in a statement at the time of the announcement. “This was a difficult decision for us, which we made after carefully assessing the needs of our business. We are confident that new ownership can build on the foundation we established over these last 21 years, and steward this incredible franchise into an even more successful future.”
New York has reached the playoffs in 15 of its 21 seasons, but has never won the title. It has had the best record in the Eastern Conference the past three seasons. Led by Tina Charles, the Liberty were 22-12 this past year and were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.
The team was fourth in attendance this season, averaging 9,889 fans, with attendance growing 8 percent over the last three seasons under team president Isiah Thomas.
The league as a whole is coming off a strong year when attendance, viewership and merchandise sales were all up. Those numbers were buoyed by a series of new innovations the league undertook this year. From a deal to show games on Twitter to entering daily fantasy gaming and having WNBA players in a video game, there were a lot of new advances for the league.
“Those innovations were the most we’ve ever done at one time or season in the history of the W,” Borders said.