Brooklyn Boro

Clarke named first CEO in Liberty history

Long-time executive chosen to lead franchise ahead of 2020 season

July 23, 2020 John Torenli
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Keia Clarke is the CEO of the NYL!

Just two days before the Brooklyn-based New York Liberty tip off the 2020 season in Bradenton, Florida, team owner Joe Tsai tabbed Clarke, who has spent the previous decade in various roles within the organization, as the first chief executive officer in the history of the WNBA franchise.

“Keia has an incredible ability to combine strategic thinking, operating excellence and a focus on people and talent,” Tsai, who also owns the Brooklyn Nets, said after promoting Clarke from her most recent position as chief operating officer.

“These qualities, plus her unassuming leadership style, will take our Liberty franchise to the next level.”

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Tsai’s wife and Liberty co-owner Clara Wu Tsai also lent her endorsement to Clarke, who was instrumental in helping the Liberty relocate to Downtown’s Barclays Center after they spent the previous two years playing before sparse crowds at the Westchester County Center in White Plains, N.Y.

“Keia brings deep experience and thoughtful perspective to the team. She is a great partner,” she said. “I look forward to working with her to raise the profile of the Liberty and contribute to growing the WNBA.”

The team was supposed to host its first full regular season in our borough this year before the COVID-19 pandemic forced an abbreviated 22-game bubble-site campaign, which will kick off at noon Saturday with the Liberty taking on the Seattle Storm in a nationally televised contest.

Regardless of the site, however, this is an era of change for the Liberty following the two worst seasons in franchise history.

New York selected Oregon superstar Sabrina Ionescu, the NCAA’s all-time leader in career triple-doubles, with the first overall pick in this year’s draft, and the team also has a new head coach in Walt Hopkins.

The Liberty shed several of their veteran stars, including former league MVP Tina Charles, while putting together a roster of first- and second-year players in the hopes of eventually building a better team and stronger brand around Ionescu.

Liberty and Nets owner Joe Tsai made history Thursday by elevating Keia Clarke to the position of team CEO. Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP

Clarke, who will lead and manage all business aspects of the Liberty organization, is looking forward to working closely with general manager Jonathan Kolb and Liberty alternate governor Oliver Weisberg.

“I am very excited about my new role at the Liberty. We have an opportunity to bring world-class basketball to fans, starting with games at the Barclays Center that will enable a fan experience no one has seen in the WNBA,” said Clarke.

“The league is at a key inflection point and I look forward to playing a part in elevating professional women’s basketball to national prominence.”

Clarke also recently joined the WNBA’s Social Justice Council, which is a collaborative cohort including players, league senior management and team leaders to develop a long-term social justice platform, according to a team-issued statement.

After joining the Liberty organization in 2011, Clarke, a Canisius College alum with a BS in Marketing, rose to the position of head of marketing before becoming chief operating officer in 2018.

Last year, Clarke was named to the Notable Women in the Business of Sports List by Crain’s New York Business.

It will be quite fitting that Saturday’s opener will feature a matchup of the only two teams in the WNBA with CEOs.

Seattle’s Alisha Valavanis is the only other top executive in the league, as most WNBA teams are run by their respective NBA brethren.

“When I first joined the organization in 2011 I couldn’t have dreamed I’d have earned the right to become CEO of this franchise,” Clarke told the New York Post. “It’s such a storied franchise, an original team. It’s an absolute honor, a privilege to work alongside Joe and Clara and Oliver Weisberg. … I really feel quite honored.

“The operational oversight, the bigger picture here is strategic long-term thinking, having the correct environment and empowerment of ownership to think how this business will grow over time, that’s what I’m looking forward to. Be focused on your fan base and understanding how it will translate to metric growth and increased [key performance indicators].”

Clarke’s appointment comes amid circulating reports that Tsai will hire former Madison Square Garden vice president John Abbamondi as team president, replacing Weisberg, who filled the spot after Tsai’s original choice, David Levy, quit after only two months on the job last November.

First reported by Sportico, Abbamondi’s imminent hiring comes after he spent the past four years overseeing ticketing, suites and hospitality for the New York Knicks and Rangers at the Garden.

The Nets are scheduled to restart their COVID-interrupted campaign in Orlando, Florida on July 31 vs. the Orlando Magic.

Brooklyn, which has lost the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan and several other notable players due to injury or positive tests for the coronavirus pandemic, will play eight regular-season games in the hopes of maintaining its tenuous-at-best playoff position.

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