If you don’t know who titan Joseph Tsai is, you should. He’s making his mark on the sports world. Tsai made billions after he was recruited in 1999 by the richest man in China, Jack Ma, who wanted to create an e-commerce marketplace. Tsai, a graduate of Yale University Law School, quit his job and accepted with a salary of only $600 a year. Today, Tsai is the second-largest shareholder in Alibaba, one of the highest valued companies in the world.
Fast forward to 2017. Tsai was looking for something to do with the next phase of his life. That’s when he invested in the Brooklyn Nets. In 2019, Tsai, who went to high school in New Jersey, spent one billion and became the owner of the Nets and Chairman of the Barclay’s Center.
Tsai didn’t stop there. He turned his attention to female sports, buying one of the WNBA’s original teams, The New York Liberty, from the Madison Square Garden Company.
“As one of New York’s proudest franchises, the Liberty has played a vital role in New York City over the past 22 years,” Tsai said, according to The New York Times.
Tsai is taking on one of the biggest challenges of his life with the Liberty, who were one of the
worst teams in the WNBA in 2019 and who have had a tumultuous decade. The Liberty had one of the lowest attendance records in the league after having played two decades in Madison Square Garden and being moved to Westchester County Center in White Plains. This move upset many long time fans.
Tsai is pressing the reset button for the Liberty and when you become chairman of the Barclay’s Center, you have power. Tsai announced that the Liberty would play at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center starting in 2020. To have a stable, modern home court represents a rebirth of the Liberty.
Let’s take this rebirth even further. Enter Sabrina Ionescu. The number one pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft went to the Liberty who chose Oregon’s Ionescu. She was the superstar in women’s college basketball. She has a huge following, including many big-name NBA players such as Lebron James. Ionescu gives the Liberty star power and she has the chance to become one of the biggest names in New York basketball.
Combine Ionescu with an increased focus on women’s sports, and Tsai and the Liberty have a chance to become an agent of change and add legions of new fans.
“As an owner, the most important thing for me, what I can do for the New York Liberty is
to build up the fan base. That’s the foundation of everything. If you have more fans, then
your media value and your sponsorship rights value increase,” Tsai told Forbes.
Many believed that Jim Dolan, former owner of the Liberty, didn’t care much about the team.
Tsai brings a different perspective and a different passion for the game and the fans, which is why he moved them to Barclay’s Center – to improve their exposure. Many who know him describe him as smart and low key. He knows what his role is and won’t get in the way of Jonathan Kolb, the general manager.
“Leaving the professionals to do what they do best,” is how Tsai described his management style according to the Times. “I am well-versed in business. I have had 20 years at Alibaba; before that, I was in the investment business. But I can’t tell you whether this player is the better player to sign.”
Tsai, who is Chinese, but born in Taiwan, has even bigger plans on the global scale and hopes to improve relations between the U.S. and China. In 2019, the Liberty had an exhibition game with the Chinese National team. Further, the Liberty drafted 6-foot-9 Chinese born Han Xu, the second tallest player in WNBA history in 2019.
He told Nets Daily, “I have said, I’ve been on record saying if there’s good Chinese players, I would do anything to help them come — if they want to come play in the NBA, I would do anything to help them do that.”
One thing is for sure, Tsai is going to be a big presence in the basketball world, and more than anything, he is a fan. You can find him and his wife, Clara, courtside cheering on their teams at the Barclays Center.