Sabrina Ionescu #20 of the Liberty reacts after a basket...

Sabrina Ionescu #20 of the Liberty reacts after a basket against the Las Vegas Aces during the fourth quarter in Game Three of the 2023 WNBA Finals at Barclays Center on October 15, 2023. Credit: Getty Images

Sandy Brondello was walking toward Barclays Center Sunday for Game 3 of the WNBA Finals against Las Vegas, and it was quite apparent again that a team had grown in Brooklyn.

The Liberty coach said everyone knew who she was.

“I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh. OK,’ ” Brondello said. 

“You can feel like a community is behind us, and I think that makes it really special for the city of New York. Hopefully, we can keep it going and keep building that momentum.” 

After moving in as full-time tenants at Barclays in 2021, the Liberty have made large strides growing the franchise here, especially this year.

That became even more apparent when that game started. There were 17,143 very enthused fans on hand, a sellout crowd waving towels, filling the place with noise and watching a Liberty victory. The attendance was more than the Liberty had ever drawn in this building. 

“The atmosphere was crazy,” said Marine Johannes, their reserve guard from France. 

The team had only sold tickets to the lower bowl for the most part during the regular season. There were some seats in the upper bowl made available for two Aces games in August. Those drew sellouts of 11,418 and then 11,615. There were other sellouts announced that were also based on seats made available and were below 10,000. 

But everything was finally available for Game 3. And another large crowd was expected for Game 4 Wednesday night when the Liberty were again trying to fight off elimination and force a deciding Game 5 in Vegas Friday night. 

“We mean a lot to this city,” Breanna Stewart said, “and we’re embracing that.” 

And there surely would be more well-known names there watching, just like at Game 3 when Jason Sudeikis, Michael Shannon, Aubrey Plaza and Joan Jett were among the famous faces in the crowd. 

There’s a lot of meaning in this. 

“When famous people come and watch us and support us, it means we’re growing as a league,” Brondello said.

“Ted’s there,” she added, referring to Sudeikis and his “Ted Lasso” show. “I think this is a buzz.”

The Liberty drew an average of about 7,777 for 20 regular-season dates, according to, up from about 5,327 for 18 dates in 2022 and about 1,757 for 16 dates in 2021. 

“I could’ve never imagined when I chose to come to New York [this year] what this city was like and how they really just welcomed us and deserved a team like this,” Courtney Vandersloot said. “ . . . It’s just a special environment.”

The league played in a bubble-type atmosphere in Bradenton, Florida, in 2020 because of the pandemic. 

Before that, the Liberty had left Madison Square Garden after the company put them up for sale, and they played before small crowds at Westchester County Center in White Plains starting in 2018.

“This used to be 1,200 at Westchester,” GM Jonathan Kolb said, thinking about then and now.

After the sale to Joe Tsai and wife Clara Wu Tsai, the Liberty also played there in 2019, although they had one preseason game and one regular-season game at Barclays.

“Their growth in the league has been tremendous, the way that their fans show up,” Las Vegas guard Kelsey Plum said. “This has been one of the best atmospheres in the ‘W’ and New York fans are relentless. It’s cool.”

The WNBA’s attendance rose by 16% from last season, with 6,615 being the average, the top figure in five years. The league’s total attendance of 1,587,488 was the best in 13 years. 

The Aces were the biggest draw at 9,551, up by more than 66% compared to 2022. They had the regular season’s largest attendance for a game. Some 17,406 fans came to see them play Sept. 10 when Phoenix visited. 

The first WNBA Canada Game, a Chicago-Minnesota preseason meeting May 13 in Toronto, drew a sellout crowd of about 20,000.

There was a lot larger crowd at the college level Sunday. Iowa hosted an outdoor exhibition game against DePaul. That set an attendance record for women’s basketball — 55,646.

“We’ve been telling [people] this whole time that they should get behind us,” Stewart said. “Now, to see that people are continuing to show up, it’s unbelievable.”


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