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The New York Liberty’s WNBA Finals Run was Only the Beginning

New York Liberty CEO Keia Clarke discusses how the team was ready to meet the moment on the court to capitalize on the team’s on-court success.

The atmosphere inside Brooklyn’s Barclays Center during last October’s WNBA Finals was electric, befitting of the hometown New York Liberty‘s first Finals home game in 21 years. Not only was there no empty seat in the building, the announced crowd of 17,143 broke a league record for single-game attendance.

But the road to that victorious October Sunday against the Las Vegas Aces — with a full arena sellout for Game 4 as well— began years earlier, in large part driven by Liberty CEO Keia Clarke.

Clarke has been with the team for 14 years, witnessing its lowest of lows and acting as a major catalyst for the team’s revitalization and transformation into a superteam both on and off the court. This year, Clarke set out to capitalize on the team’s on-court success in all aspects of the Liberty’s business, already delivering tangible results less than a month into the new WNBA season.

“I’m so proud that I felt ready for the moment,” Clarke told Boardroom. “We could see that there was tons of potential here. The Finals run changed our entire outlook for how we set our budgets and revenue, but also how we thought about where we wanted to invest and innovate in the offseason. We really put our heads together and said, ‘What will make the most impact for driving and continuing to drive fan engagement?’

“The feeling that we had in Games 3 and 4 of the Finals is what we want to be the norm here, and it then became an exercise in how we get that done and how we grow.”

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Liberty season ticket memberships are up 54% year over year, and thanks to larger attendance and demand and higher ticket prices, the team is on pace for a 70% increase in ticket revenue compared to 2023, per team figures. The team is now the first WNBA team to have a premium seating waitlist, selling out all courtside inventory for the 2024 season.

And for the first time, the Liberty offered partial season ticket plans for the upper bowl, which will be open with much more regularity this year to keep pace with record demand.

The ticketing strategy paid dividends immediately. The May 18 home opener against Caitlin Clark‘s Indiana Fever broke October’s single-game attendance record with 17,735 fans and set a single-game league record with more than $2 million in ticket sales.

Satisfying this record demand wasn’t limited to the in-person experience. The Liberty signed a new local television contract to bring games to over-the-air stations Fox 5 and My9 instead of the YES cable channel, bringing the team to 7.5 million households in the NYC Metro area. The team also launched a new app with a direct-to-consumer streaming platform Liberty Live, where fans can tune into local matches outside NYC for $4.99 a month.

“Fox’s promotion of the team has been so robust,” Clarke said. “From 10 years ago, not knowing when our season took place to having the assurance that 7.5 million households will be able to tune into one of these games is huge. That’s a game-changer for us. All of the people who are just now dipping their toes into WNBA basketball now don’t have to go searching to find our games.”

Clarke also prioritized increasing the number of corporate sponsors and brand partners over the offseason. The Liberty went from 17 in 2022 to 31 last year and 41 in 2024, increasing sponsorship revenue by 35% last year. A new partnership with Barclays yielded one of the largest jersey patch sponsorship deals in WNBA history.

(Photo courtesy of the New York Liberty)

Clarke has seen it all during her Liberty tenure, including moving from Madison Square Garden to the tiny suburban Westchester County Center under previous ownership. But since Joe Tsai and Clara Wu Tsai purchased the franchise in 2019, Clarke has helped spearhead the franchise’s renaissance, moving into Barclays Center in 2021 and building a superteam that began with drafting Sabrina Ionescu first overall in 2020 and culminated in signing Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot and trading for Jonquel Jones prior to the 2023 season.

The buildup to the Liberty’s current run of success began before the 2021 season when the team doubled the number of front-office staff members on both the business and basketball sides. And while seating capacity was limited that season, Clarke said staffing up early enabled the team to be ready when scaling up on sponsors and partners became increasingly realistic. That notably included a 2022 partnership with Xbox to create a custom court for the Liberty over two games that also featured a replica court being built in the Roblox metaverse.

Clarke helped build and shape the game presentation at Barclays, which she said was done with intentionality across the board—a meeting of the minds from game ops, marketing, photography, content creation, and a slew of other departments. In 2021, the Liberty introduced its mascot, Ellie the Elephant, objectively one of the best in sports, in an effort to satisfy the many types of WNBA fans.

“Whether you’re coming with your 6-year-old and she comes to see Ellie swing her ponytail, or you’re coming for the core fan who really wants stats and figures or betting during a game,” Clarke said, “we’re trying to create an atmosphere where you have fun and it’s purely entertaining. But there’s also a lot of thought that goes into what music is played, what Ellie is wearing, what she’s dancing to. It was an intentional decision to keep the Timeless Torches as a part of the Liberty’s entertainment because of what they symbolize.”

With the current team firing on all cylinders and growing just as women’s hoops is burgeoning in popularity — with charter flights finally becoming the norm leaguewide — Liberty sponsorship revenue is at an all-time high, and tickets to games are becoming more scarce. During the 2023 regular season, in-arena merchandise sales increased 165% YoY, and commerce sales increased 133% YoY thanks in part to its partnership with Fanatics.

With Clarke at the helm and the team thriving in every aspect, she said the Liberty were ahead of the curve on preparation, putting the pieces in place years before the team’s on-court ascent so that they were prepared not just for when the time came, but for lasting sustained success.

“We’re just here to make sure that we seize the moment and we capitalize on this momentum,” Clarke said, “but more so that it becomes the norm and not just this moment in time.”

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Shlomo Sprung

Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.

About The Author
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung
Shlomo Sprung is a Senior Staff Writer at Boardroom. He has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with past work appearing in Forbes, MLB.com, Awful Announcing, and The Sporting News. He graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2011, and his Twitter and Spotify addictions are well under control. Just ask him.