Madison Square Garden has been the home of the New York Liberty women’s basketball team since the team was founded in 1997. But for the upcoming season, the team will be downgraded to the Westchester Community Center, a dinky, 5,000 seat arena in White Plains, New York. The New York Liberty often had 10,000 attendees during their 2017 season home games.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is furious. In a letter to James Dolan, the head of the Madison Square Garden Company, Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President, furiously observed, “...You have turned ‘the World’s Most Famous Arena’ into the world’s most famous stage for unfairly benching women athletes.”
Brewer also said that this move could put MSG in danger of losing its tax abatement, an incentive which grants businesses a tax reduction or exemption for a set period of time in the hopes that the company will stimulate growth, such as real estate or industrial projects. MSG’s tax abatement, which will be up for renewal in a few years, saves the company $50 million annually.
“I and many of my colleagues in the City Council and State Legislature have never been convinced that this abatement constitutes good policy,” said Brewer. “Shameful actions like this one, banishing a popular women’s professional sports team where its fan base cannot reach it, do not help your case.”
Westchester Community Center is 30 miles away from MSG and is only accessible by car or commuter rail.
The Madison Square Garden Company owns the New York Liberty and is hoping to sell the team—they’re also claiming the reduced occupancy at the Westchester Community Center will, “create an exciting environment for the Liberty and its fans.” Is White Plains easily accessible to a majority of people attending Liberty games? If not, then this move doesn’t seem particularly favorable to fans.
The New York Liberty will no longer share stomping grounds with the NBA’s New York Knicks, a fact that also emphasizes the separate but equal approach to WNBA venues. Of the 10 WNBA teams located in cities that also have an NBA team, only half currently play in the same arenas as their NBA counterparts: The Los Angeles Sparks, Los Angeles Lakers, and the Los Angeles Clippers play at the Staples Center; the Washington Mystics and Washington Wizards play at the Capital One Arena; the Phoenix Mercury and the Phoenix Suns play at the Talking Stick Resort Arena; the Minnesota Lynx and Minnesota Timberwolves play at the Target Center; and the Indiana Fever and Indiana Pacers play at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Women’s basketball isn’t nearly as profitable as men’s basketball and never has been. But moving a team from a nearly 20,000 seat arena in the heart of Manhattan, to a venue with a fraction of the occupancy in the suburbs seems at best pretty fucking rude. (The only other basketball team that plays at the community center is the Westchester Knicks, a minor league basketball team.) The marquee at the community center is also a far cry from that of MSG’s: Upcoming events include a performance by a Bee Gees cover band, a reptile expo, and a senior citizen health convention. Woof.