BROOKLYN — By 10:30 on Saturday morning, the plaza in front of Barclays Center was swarming with seafoam green. Fans young and old were lining up to get into the arena a full 90 minutes before doors even opened for the New York Liberty’s home opener against the Indiana Fever.

When the game finally tipped at 1 p.m., a sellout crowd of 17,735 saw the Liberty beat the Fever for the second time in three days, 91-80, and improve to 3-0 on the season.

It wasn’t just a sellout. The Liberty set a WNBA record for ticket revenue in a single game, bringing in more than $2 million.

There’s no denying the opponent’s star player, Caitlin Clark, was a major reason why. Number 22 Fever and Iowa Hawkeyes jerseys were sprinkled around the arena and more than one young fan brought a sign specifically calling Clark their personal hero.

But saying this was all about the rookie phenom does a disservice to the other players and the fans themselves. Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager were there from the Today Show, and they spent time with Sabrina Ionescu and Breanna Stewart before the game. Jason Sudekis is a regular at Liberty games no matter the opponent, and Billie Jean King, Michelle Wie West, Sue Bird, Megan Rapinoe, Dawn Staley and Sue Wicks all joined him on celebrity row.

Ionescu told reporters before the game that she had 30 family members in the building.

“For me it’s been amazing to be a part of and to be able to see that growth every single year and to understand that I’ve been a part of that,” Ionescu reflected.

The crowd held up its end of the bargain. Before tip-off, Jonquel Jones addressed the fans, telling them “this season is our season.” The crowd roared.

The Liberty don’t take that for granted. They experienced the second-biggest attendance jump in the WNBA from 2022 to 2023 as the team went from a fringe-playoff unit to WNBA runners-up.

The two are linked. Yes, more fans buy tickets when the team is playing well. At the same time, Stewart says the energy of the home crowd has a real effect.

“I think the way that I can describe how it feels [was] in the third [quarter], we're a little bit tired and we're trying to push through,” she explained. “We have our fans cheering for us, giving us more energy coming after a timeout, whether it's a big play or not.”

That mattered on Saturday. Similar to their game in Indianapolis on Thursday, the Liberty jumped out to a big lead only to see the Fever chip away in the third quarter. And while the Fever wilted in the first matchup, they managed to hang around this time. That’s where the energy of the crowd gave the Liberty that extra push, according to Stewart.

“Really feeding off of that, that's what home court advantage is,” she said.

Growing the WNBA together

Sabrina Ionescu showing excitement on the New York Liberty.
Wendell Cruz-USA Today Sports

Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello made it a point in her postgame press conference to say that, yes, some fans bought tickets to see Caitlin Clark. But Liberty fans were there to see the New York Liberty.

“We really created such a great buzz last year and we appreciate the fans,” she said. “We should take pride in that and how we perform.”

Jones and Stewart agreed and were gracious to Clark in victory, expressing appreciation for what she has done for women’s basketball.

“The buzz and just the eyes that Caitlin has brought from Iowa now to the WNBA is going to be a collective win for all,” Stewart said. “Now that she's a part of our league, and a part of our 144 [players], even though we're competing against each other, we're making sure that we're continuing to lift up this league together.”

“She has the media behind her because she’s a great player,” Jones added. “She had a great collegiate career and has done amazing and now she's in the WNBA, but at the same time, we have to respect the league and the competition by going out there and playing our best regardless of who that is.”

And there’s plenty of room for the Liberty fanbase to keep growing. On Monday night, the Liberty will host the Seattle Storm and the crowd will be smaller. That’s just how it goes — there won’t be an opening night buzz or a Caitlin Clark on the other team, and the Storm just aren’t good. But will fans who had a good time on Saturday want to come back? Will fans who watched on ABC feel like they missed out?

As Stewart put it, “It’s a long time coming and we're happy to be at this point, but we're not satisfied over here.”