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The pros and cons of Joseph Tsai as the next New York Liberty owner

The Alibaba executive vice chairman’s wealth is welcome, but his emotional bandwidth for the team is unknown.

Joesph Tsai WNBA New York Liberty
Joseph Tsai is in position to be the next majority owner of the New York Liberty.
Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Lincoln Center

Last week, the Associated Press reported that an ownership group led by Joseph Tsai was interested in purchasing the New York Liberty from The Madison Square Garden Company. The Liberty have been for sale since November 2017, but Tsai is the first serious potential buyer to come forward.

Who is Joseph Tsai?

Tsai is a Taiwanese-Canadian investor who was educated in the United States and played lacrosse at Yale University where he went to college. He is most famous for co-founding e-commerce retailer Alibaba Group with Jack Ma in 1999, and he still serves as its executive vice chairman.

Tsai was not heavily involved in sports ownership until recently, though.

He bought the San Diego Seals box lacrosse franchise in 2017 as well as a 49 percent ownership stake in the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets — with an option to purchase the entire team in 2021, which he is likely to do. Finally, Tsai was interested in purchasing the NFL’s Carolina Panthers by joining an investment group with Michael Rubin, but the group withdrew its interest last March.

If the deal with the Liberty goes through, Tsai would become the first Asian and the first Canadian majority owner of a WNBA team.

Finally, Tsai is personally interested in women’s sports. His daughter, Alex, is a sophomore midfielder for the Stanford Cardinal women’s lacrosse team.

Possible pros of Tsai owning the Liberty

Tsai is a billionaire worth over $8.5 billion, according to Forbes. His financial resources will be a stabilizing influence for the Liberty, which should give the players, team employees and fans peace of mind that the team will stay in the New York area.

Kevin Acee of San Diego Union Tribune wrote a column in October 2017 on the possibility of Tsai bringing a major sports team to town — like the NFL, NBA or NHL — because he has a residence there. However, Acee also noted that it is highly unlikely Tsai would move the Nets out of New York City to San Diego, or to another city.

Possible cons of Tsai owning the Liberty

Sports team ownership isn’t just about rich people owning teams as pet projects. Fans often expect owners to be emotionally invested in the teams as well. Tsai now owns one sports team outright as well as nearly one-half of an NBA team, for which he will likely be become majority owner in 2021.

Assuming he buys the Liberty franchise, Tsai will have major stakes in three different teams and leagues in a two year span, while remaining at Alibaba. Although it is not uncommon for sports team owners to maintain other jobs, fans could question whether an owner like Tsai has enough emotional bandwidth to adequately support the various teams he owns.

Tsai spends much of his time traveling the world for business. Does he have the time to be on the court for the Liberty as well? If he does, then his ownership would be a great resolution to the Liberty’s woes. But if Tsai does not have enough time to invest in the WNBA on an emotional level, Liberty fans may not be pleased.