Eyes On the Game: The Story Behind the Liberty’s Expanding Fanbase
Each of the Liberty players’ images are posted outside Barclays Center. One can walk through the streets of Brooklyn and see people sporting No. 30 and 20 seafoam green jerseys. Recently outside of the arena, there was a parked pizza truck offering Breanna Stewart-themed pizza boxes to make her case for the league MVP. Many of the home games this season have featured free giveaways of bucket hats, t-shirts and socks while also bringing awareness to various community organizations and causes.
It is safe to say that the New York Liberty have found their home in Brooklyn at Barclays Center.
After spending time at different arenas throughout New York and New Jersey, the team finally moved to Barclays Center in 2021 after Joe and Clara Wu Tsai acquired the team. The Liberty have been fully embraced by the city since, with Liberty fans old and new coming out to support.
The 2023 WNBA regular season has seen records broken in many ways by both players and fans. For the Liberty, it has sparked a newfound excitement to go along with their best regular season winning percentage in franchise history (.800).
Bouncing Around Before Finding Their Home
Before moving to Brooklyn, the team called multiple different venues home. The Liberty played at the Prudential Center from 2011-13 while Madison Square Garden was being renovated before moving back to play at the Garden from 2014-17.
The team was then sold by Madison Square Garden’s executive chairman/CEO James Dolan and had to relocate to Westchester County Center in White Plains, N.Y. for two seasons. The center was able to host a maximum crowd of 2,100 people, which led to a stark drop in attendance and hurt the WNBA’s growth.
The Liberty, along with the rest of the WNBA, then had to play in the bubble in Bradenton, Fla. in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They were then bought by the Tsais, co-owners of the Brooklyn Nets, San Diego Seals and Barclays Center.
Still, it took some time for the Liberty to establish themselves in Brooklyn. In 2021, the Liberty averaged about 1,800 fans per game, which ranked ninth that year out of the league’s 12 teams. Many things factored into it, including the pandemic and lack of awareness about the team’s move.
But in the past two years, the Liberty have gotten back on track, reaching the playoffs last season and playing their first playoff game at Barclays. This year, they have locked up the No. 2 seed in the league, guaranteeing the team home-court advantage for at least the first two rounds of the postseason.
A New Liberty Era
The 2023 season ushered in a new era for the Liberty with the acquisition of WNBA MVP and two-time champion Breanna Stewart, 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones and 2021 WNBA champion Courtney Vandersloot. These three players, with their already illustrious careers and accolades, completed one of the most dangerous starting fives in the league alongside Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney and inevitably led to newfound excitement about the team.
The Liberty have already broken multiple attendance records this season. Their first home game against the Aces this season on Aug. 6 broke a WNBA attendance record at Barclays with 11,418. The Liberty came away from that game with a commanding 91-66 win.
“Great teams use home court advantage a lot, and making sure that whether we shoot the ball well or not, we know that our fans have our back and for any team that comes in here, it is a really difficult place to play,” Stewart said in her post-game interview.
Another attendance record was broken on Aug. 28, again against the Aces, as a crowd of 11,615 watched the Liberty win 94-85, giving them the advantage in the season series against Las Vegas. This game was also the most-watched WNBA game on ESPN2 in the last five years with 328,000 people tuning in.
In response to the attendance record on Aug. 28, Ionescu addressed the home crowd, saying, “We don’t win these games without this crowd here. They’re one with us and we expect them to come out every single night and show up for us and we’re gonna show out for them.”
According to Across the Timeline, a WNBA stat tracker, attendance for Liberty games during 2023 is up 46.8% compared to 2022. The Liberty averaged roughly 7,776 fans per game compared to 5,327 in 2022.
The Fan Experience
Fans are not only buying tickets to watch Liberty games but are being treated to an even greater experience at Barclays. Every home game includes cameos and performances from the Timeless Torches, Torch Patrol, the Tiny Torches, halftime performances, contests and t-shirt tosses and celebrity row appearances from comedians, actors, athletes and members of the Brooklyn Nets. Nets guard Mikal Bridges was in attendance at almost every home game before leaving to compete at the FIBA World Cup this year.
While the city of Brooklyn has fully supported the Liberty, it has been a symbiotic relationship, as the team has recognized the importance of also giving back to their community. Every home game, a local Brooklyn-based organization is recognized for its work in the community.
After New York’s 2023 WNBA Commissioner’s Cup win, $35,500 was donated to Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, which provides sensitive, quality health care to New York’s LGTBQ+ communities.
Ionescu also recently launched her new SI20 Foundation and its partnership with DREAM, a community-based youth development organization and public charter school network in East Harlem and the Bronx. On Sept. 9, the two organizations kicked off their partnership with a basketball clinic for DREAM students in the Bronx.
WNBA Viewership On the Rise
Fans are coming out in droves, whether they be longtime Liberty faithful or new fans looking to get more into the game and watch history be made.
Not only have the Liberty seen attendance records skyrocket this season—but the entire league has seen many more fans, including in person at games and watching on various platforms at home.
Attendance numbers are up for almost every team this season, but especially for TV viewership. According to a press release from Sept. 13, the WNBA had its most-watched regular season in 21 years and its highest total attendance in 13 years, up 16% from the 2022 season.
The 2023 WNBA draft, televised on ESPN, was watched by over 572,000 people and was the most-viewed draft since 2004.
Brittney Griner’s return to the Phoenix Mercury, facing off against the Los Angeles Sparks, was the most viewed WNBA opening night game on ESPN in 11 years, with an average viewership of 683,000.
The 2023 Commissioner’s Cup Championship had double the viewership of last year’s game, with fans watching the Liberty come out victorious against the Aces.
Playoffs Mean Business
As the Liberty prepare for their opening round series against the Washington Mystics at Barclays Center this Friday, it has already been announced that the lower bowl has sold out, giving the team a chance to sell more tickets by opening up upper bowl seats.
The Liberty will likely see a home-court advantage in front of a crowd hopeful to see the team with a goal of winning its first championship in franchise history.