AP sources: Nets minority owner agrees to buy WNBA's Liberty

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NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Liberty are finally about to have a new owner.

An investment group led by Brooklyn Nets minority owner Joseph Tsai has agreed to buy the New York Liberty, pending approval by the NBA Board of Governors, two people familiar with the purchase told The Associated Press on Monday. They said the WNBA Board of Governors approved the sale a few days ago.

Those speaking to the AP did so on condition of anonymity because no announcement has been made.

Tsai, co-founder of the e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, bought a 49 percent interest in the Nets in April.

Liberty owner James Dolan put his team up for sale in November 2017. There had been several potential buyers and a few were close to a purchase, but the deals fell through for various reasons.

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New York is one of the three original WNBA franchises still in existence along with the Los Angeles Sparks and the Phoenix Mercury.

The team said before last season it had “lost money every year since its inception and cumulative losses exceed $100 million.” The franchise played most of its home games in 2018 at the suburban Westchester County Center, which saved the team a lot of money. Operating costs were nearly 20 times less than playing at Madison Square Garden.

The WNBA already has released its 2019 schedule, and the Liberty are set to play in Westchester again, with the two school and camp-day games listed without a venue. With dates locked in, it could be difficult to move games to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center if that’s what the new ownership group wanted.

The team dropped from fourth in attendance in 2017 to last in the league last season, averaging 2,823 fans. That number was even smaller when the two kids’ day games at MSG were taken out, with an average of just 1,886 fans coming to the 15 Westchester dates. The Liberty couldn’t routinely fill the arena, which was configured to hold only 2,319 fans.

Improved play on the court could help draw more fans. The Liberty struggled last season, finishing with the second-worst record in the league. They have the No. 2 pick in the WNBA draft in April.

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