The State of the New York Liberty with COO Keia Clarke

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New York Liberty COO Keia Clarke spoke with Winsidr about the New York forecast going into 2020 after the team underwent an expansive, youthful renovation.

New York Liberty brass has kept active during the offseason, leading the charge on several projects. Recently, the team unveiled “Kickin’ It with Kia”, a socially distanced talk show-like social media segment where 2019 All-Star Kia Nurse interviews her teammates, old and new (the show has since been placed on hiatus). The Liberty also unveiled a new logo, maintaining their traditional seafoam branding while emphasizing black in an updated version of their torched “NY” shield. 

Among those leading the charge is Liberty Chief Operating Officer Keia Clarke. She has been with the Liberty for over a decade and has held the COO title for the past three years. Clarke is no stranger to basketball. She starred on the Canisius Golden Griffins’ basketball squad for four seasons. She departed Buffalo with a marketing degree and joined on with the Liberty shortly after. 

Lately, Clarke engaged in the Liberty’s active efforts of support toward the national protests against police brutality and systemic racism. She is one of several signees of a joint statement released by the Liberty, the Brooklyn Nets, the Long Island Nets, and Barclays Center, supporting the peaceful demonstrations that have been staged outside the arena.  

“We mourn the senseless and devastating loss of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others who lost their lives because of racial bias,” the letter reads in part. “Today, we stand up and speak up against all forms of racial discrimination, overt or subconscious, especially against the Black community. We want to say, ‘Enough is enough.’”

Clarke recently sat down with Winsidr about the state of the New York franchise and how the team is preparing for a potential 2020 season…

Q: Why was this the right time to revamp the team’s look and aesthetic? 

A: I’ve been with the team for quite some time, nine-plus years. Probably within even the last five or six years, even when I was in previous roles with the Liberty, there had been at least ancillary discussion about the limitations of the original mark. But we always came back to the fact that we loved the logo, the symbolization of the statue, and all her value, and how that aligned with what we were creating from a brand identity standpoint. 

It always got pushed back in terms of prioritization. But with so many fresh start initiatives that we found ourselves between 2019 and 2020, new team ownership, a new home at the Barclays Center, brand new head coach, and a very different looking roster, it made a lot more sense to start exploring how we could refresh it more deeply. There were some limitations, after 20-plus years of having the same logo and being an original team. The design was a bit antiquated. I was the director of marketing previously and there were moments where we wanted to create things with our logo on it and stitching was very, very tedious, too detailed to even create. 

I think it was partly out of need for modernization, but also, with the new mark, we wanted to tie to our roots, tie to New York. Hence, it’s a really a riff off our original secondary logo. We retained the NY, we retained the shield. The most major transition, I think, would really be the color, the colorization, the removal of the blue and orange and a heavy focus on black, white, and seafoam green. 

Q: How have the Liberty, as an original WNBA franchise, been able to become one of the league’s most eternal squads?

A: Obviously, there’s something to be said for being in one of the largest markets in New York City. It’s important, I think, for professional leagues to have teams in the premiere markets. But even in challenging times, we’ve had this ability to thrive. 

There was first the move to Prudential Center, then the return to Madison Square Garden. Then there was the move to Westchester County Center and now Barclays. I would really have to give credit, twofold, to team ownership, the former, and the present. Additionally, we have to thank persistent and really committed fans. While it’s not millions and millions of fans, they’re die-hards and so passionate about us. They follow them across the river and up the highway and on every stop in between over these last few years. 

I would really credit it to that. It’s important to have teams in large markets, but also the stick-to-it-ness of ownership and our fanbase. 

Q: How can the Liberty widen their footprint on the crowded NYC sports scene?

A: Some of it has been the potential to be able to increase our impact by geography. The Barclays Center, the return to the boroughs is going to help us, certainly. Joining the portfolio of BSE Global and our opportunities with the Nets’ players and resources will continue to be helpful. We’ve seen some of those things start to show themselves true already.

We also have the virtue of being in New York and having moments where we can collaborate. Sabrina Ionescu, for example, was part of the New York Giants’ schedule release video. It’s not like that can’t happen when you’re not in the boroughs, but that’s just part of being intertwined in the New York City sports scene. That’s part of the cache of being in the city.

The most important thing is media coverage, talking to folks like you. From a business standpoint, every time our general manager Jonathan Kolb, has the opportunity to be and out about how he has put our team together, having our players tell their own stories on the court and off the court. All of those things matter and all of those things help become more present in the mind of the casual fan, maybe the folks who haven’t been as familiar with us. It’s almost a sky’s the limit type of situation. We’re ready to infiltrate as soon as we’re ready to be outdoors! 

Q: What sort of an impact can a name, a once-in-a-lifetime talent like Sabrina Ionescu have on this on and off the court?

A: It’s an understatement to say that we’re incredibly optimistic about the effects Sabrina will bring to our franchise. She did have such a storied collegiate career. She had a lot of coverage, which is really helpful, so more broad-based people will know her, not just the core sports fan, not just the women’s basketball fan. It’s really that crossover appeal, that broad appeal, that’s going to be magnificent in New York City, where we have more media, where we have bigger, better opportunities with corporate partners and where the fans can see her play. It’s not just the fans from New York, but the people from all-around who want to see her, to see all the top WNBA talent that comes through here. 

I think we’d both agree that we’re in a really, really blessed situation in that regard. I’ve always envisioned and have been hopeful for a time when the city, the people who live in New York City, rally behind the Liberty. Unlike the “big four”, there aren’t two WNBA teams. You don’t have to choose between one or the other. Everyone can rally behind us and I’m really excited about that. 

Sabrina as a centerpiece is magnificent, but we’ve always been thriving. We think it resonates when people see Sabrina and her teammates. At the end of the day, it’s a franchise, and it’s about what everyone brings to the table and I think she’s taking an incredible lead in that regard. But there are things that Kia Nurse will do on and off the court. There are things that Asia Durr has done on and off the court. Amanda Zahui B, some of the other rookies that we brought in, we’re really, really excited, even just talking to them during this time about what the outlook is going to be like and how they can make a major impact. 

Q: The Liberty have players from five different nations in their system. How proud are you of this international representation? 

A: It’s a unique position to be in for sure. I can’t take credit for it, I give all the credit to our general manager, but it’s one we’ve already seen direct benefits from. When you talk about Marine Johannes from France, every time we post something about her, the French collective, the people who follow us internationally, you see spikes literally in real-time. In 2019, we played a preseason game against the Chinese women’s national basketball team. Having Han (Xu) on that team and really being able to engage with various organizations, non-profits, the Chinese consulate around that game really helped draw over 4,000 people to a preseason game, it was unprecedented. 

We were really, really looking forward to be back in the melting pot that is New York so that we can engage in every neighborhood and contingency that is represented on our team. We know that there’s going to be a following from Swedes for Zahui B, Australians for [Rebecca Allen]. It’s something to be proud of and as a business operator, I look at how it can affect GPI. That comes down to fandom, ticket sales, corporate partnerships. There’s a really, really a ton of opportunity in that area, one that we really haven’t been able to garner in a substantial way in recent years. But now, it’s a story for sure. 

Q: What do you think needs to happen for us to have a 2020 WNBA season and what’s the first order of business once we get the green light? 

A: I think all leagues are concerned with the safety and well being of all of our constituents. That includes the players, and they’re at the top of that food chain. But it’s also the coaches, the staff, the people who have to broadcast, operate games. It’s a ton to consider and definitely of the utmost importance both to the team and to the league. 

As WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert has stated previously, they have been exploring every scenario possible, and the goal is to play this summer. When those two items, the health and well-being of everyone involved, and a scenario is decided, my first order of business is to really remain nimble. Over the last few months, flexibility has been the name of the game. As much as we can adapt and think of new, virtual, digital ways to talk to someone, picking up the phone and calling someone means so much at this point in time.

Whatever the decision is, we will be ready, In as many ways as possible, we’ve had to remain business as usual. The league, kudos to them, produced the first virtual draft and we hosted our first virtual draft party. In turn, we are framing and moving forward with our Pride initiative for the month of June, one of the biggest platforms we at the Liberty have produced for some time now. We’re not going to let this stop us from delivering for our fans and continuing to be that sense of community for the people who have supported us. 

We want to definitely give content and provide content and reasons for new fans to join the Liberty loyals. The first order of business really would be remaining flexible where our fans are concerned. I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention sponsor engagement. Whatever the season will look like, it will have modifications. How we approach that and how flexible we are is going to determine how we do.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

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