Does the Austin Spurs have a nice ring to it? How about the Monterrey Spurs, becoming the first team from a major American sports league to be located in Mexico?
We may all have to get used to it in the future because the San Antonio Spurs will be taking some road trips during the home portion of their schedule. A “pilot program” passed with a 3-2 vote in the Bexar County Court that will allow the Spurs to have a one-year trial period during the 2022-23 season in which they play four of their home games away from the AT&T Center in San Antonio. Some of those games will likely be in Austin and Mexico City.
One of the Bexar County commissioners who voted against the measure, Tommy Calvert, was concerned that the Spurs are considering leaving San Antonio for Austin. The Spurs’ chief legal counsel, Bobby Perez’s response was that the team is simply looking to expand its fanbase as they’re also in the market for a naming-rights partner, since AT&T did not renew their deal.
That’s not the most ringing endorsement for the Spurs to stay in San Antonio, but it’s part of the game in professional sports. The Chicago Bears aren’t looking for a name change, but they are tired of their mistake by the lake — the Soldier Field renovation of the early aughts — and want a larger and nicer stadium. In October they purchased Arlington International Racecourse in Arlington Heights, Ill., and are currently working on designs with some people who worked on the Las Vegas Raiders’ Allegiant Stadium. Because that’s exactly what the Bears need, a stadium that looks like a cleaning device in the northwest suburbs.
For the Spurs however, leaving San Antonio could be a forward-thinking move. Yes, this is a historical NBA franchise, five NBA Championships in 15 seasons, and also one of the four franchises left standing from the ABA merger, along with the Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, and the now Brooklyn Nets. Also, San Antonio is a much bigger place than people realize. While it’s only the 31st largest television market in America, it’s actually the seventh-most populated city with over 1 million people.
But Austin is booming. It’s always had a strong creative scene, along with the University of Texas, but now people are moving in from all over the country. Last year it was the fastest growing metropolitan area in America. Say what you will about Joe Rogan and his horse medicine, but him moving his operation to Austin was a big deal. He noticed what many others did, that Austin has a big-city feel, a cool artistic culture that is unique to the city, and cheaper living costs (though those are rising quickly just like every other major metropolitan area in America). Last year Austin moved up the television market rankings from 40th to 38th. If the NBA wants to continue to ignore the outstanding giant market that it left, aka Seattle, a burgeoning one like Austin is not a terrible idea.
And if not Austin, why not become the first major American league to have a team in Mexico? The NFL is clearly thinking about it by bringing its international series back to Mexico City in 2022. The Spurs already have a large Mexican fan base, and it’s just over a five-hour drive from San Antonio’s River Walk to Monterrey, a metropolitan area with more than five million people. Canada is clearly working for the NBA in Toronto. Expanding to the other country in North America first, and doing it with a team that already has a fan base could be a major economic boon for the NBA. Maybe they even try to make the giant move to Mexico City. That would be a long flight for a division game between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Spurs, but now we’re talking 21 million people.
Moving is still very much speculation. The Spurs still have to meet with Bexar County commissioners again to finalize this four-game plan. Also, the earliest the Spurs could break their lease would be 2026 and that would come with an $84 million penalty. Their current lease doesn’t expire till 2032. A move like that would also be unfortunate for a city that really shows up for that team. Some of the loudest NBA games I’ve ever heard were played at the Spurs stadium.
That being said, this is probably the most intriguing team out there to perhaps move. Forget moving the Oakland A’s to Vegas, or the Jacksonville Jaguars to England, the Spurs in Austin or Mexico could be a rousing success. The fans are already nearby. After they get to see Dejounte Murray play in person a couple of times, they might be ready for the real thing very quickly.