Several potential ownership groups are in active discussions with the Madison Square Garden company about purchasing the WNBA's New York Liberty, multiple sources familiar with the matter told ESPN.
The groups are preparing formal bids and have agreed to non-disclosure agreements as part of the bidding process, the sources said.
WNBA president Lisa Borders said the expectation is that the Liberty will remain in the New York area after the sale.
"We will have a team in New York," Borders told The Associated Press on Thursday. "... We want the new owner, whoever she or he is, to have the latitude to make decisions for the team. We don't want to tie their hands. ... The New York area is important to us. This is our headquarters."
The Madison Square Garden Company earlier this month announced that it wants to sell the Liberty, one of the founding teams in the WNBA. There is no specific timetable for the sale, but the company's decision to publicly announce its plans to sell the team strongly indicates that it wants a deal completed as soon as possible.
MSG's executive chairman/CEO Jim Dolan is the last remaining original owner in the WNBA, dating to the start of the league in 1997.
"We have been a strong and vocal advocate for the Liberty and the WNBA since the beginning. As the last original owner, I am proud of how far the league has come, and the role we have played in its growth," Dolan said in a statement at the time of the announcement. "This was a difficult decision for us, which we made after carefully assessing the needs of our business. We are confident that new ownership can build on the foundation we established over these last 21 years, and steward this incredible franchise into an even more successful future."
The Liberty have made the playoffs in 15 of their 21 seasons but have never won a league championship. They were 22-12, third overall in the WNBA, this past season, but lost in the second round of the playoffs.
Ex-head coach Bill Laimbeer left the Liberty in October to serve as coach and president of the WNBA franchise (formerly the San Antonio Stars) that recently moved to Las Vegas.
Katie Smith is currently serving as coach of the Liberty, and Isiah Thomas is team president.
If the Liberty stay in New York and are not purchased by any NBA-affiliated owner, that will increase the number of so-called independent WNBA franchises to eight of 12. When the WNBA began, all eight original teams were owned by and affiliated with NBA teams, but the league changed its business model before the 2003 season to allow for independent ownership.
ESPN's Darren Rovell and Mechelle Voepel contributed to this report.