SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County commissioners gave the San Antonio Spurs a preliminary go-ahead on Tuesday to play more home games away from the AT&T Center — though not as many as the franchise was asking for initially.
The Spurs play in the county-owned AT&T Center and have a non-relocation agreement that prohibits them from playing more than two of their 41 regular season home games away from the arena in any one season.
Spurs Sports & Entertainment wanted to increase the limit to four games for the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 seasons, hoping for “home” games in Mexico, the Alamodome and Austin. SS&E has painted the request as a way for them to grow their regional brand and fan base “from Mexico to Austin.”
However, after some sharp comments and questions surrounding the franchise’s commitment to staying in San Antonio, commissioners voted 3-2 to approve increasing the cap for just one season preliminarily.
“That’s not a good sign. Alright?” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff told SS&E Chief Legal Officer Bobby Perez following the vote. “It shows you that there’s a divided opinion in this community as to the intention of the Spurs, that there’s a lot of concern about just what the heck you’re doing.”
Vid of 3-2 vote & @Judge_wolff to @spurs legal counsel:— Garrett Brnger (@BrngerReports) May 3, 2022
"That's not a good sign. It shows you that there's a divided opinion in this community as to the intention of the Spurs, that there's a lot of concern as to just what the heck you're doing."
Wants to hear from owners. pic.twitter.com/OxaPiB9Nsn
Precinct 3 Commissioner Marialyn Barnard and Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert voted against the idea after their attempt to table it failed.
It’s not clear when most of these “home” games would be played, though Perez said a game in Mexico City was a league-sponsored event with a December target date.
SS&E also wants to play a game in the Alamodome, the team’s home court during its 1998-1999 championship season, as part of its 50th anniversary season in 2022-2023.
Perez said the organization has also had discussions with the Moody Center, a brand-new venue on the University of Texas at Austin campus, but there are no contracts yet.
The potential for Austin games has spooked San Antonio fans, rekindling fears that the team could eventually make a permanent move up I-35.
“You all have a good pulse beat of your fans. I have a good pulse beat of my constituents. And the very first thing that they said is that the organization is testing the waters,” Calvert said in Tuesday’s meeting. “I was with the CEO of a large organization here when they heard about it, and they said, ‘Mmm mmm. Wouldn’t vote for that. They’re testing the waters in Austin.’”
SS&E CEO R.C. Buford released a statement Monday, saying in part, “San Antonio has been home for five decades and the organization will continue to innovate, positioning the Spurs to thrive in San Antonio for the next 50 years.”
Perez told commissioners Tuesday, “as the chief legal officer and general counsel of all our companies, our commitment is we are staying in San Antonio.”
However, Wolff did not appear to give much weight to Perez’s reassurance, telling reporters after the meeting, “(Perez) has no authority to -- it’s the ownership that decides whether they’re going to stay or not.”
Commissioners will vote again in two weeks on the precise agreement language, which Wolff said would give time for fans and other officials to make their opinions known.
The judge also noted that Spurs ownership and top management had not shown up to Tuesday’s meeting and made it clear commissioners wanted to hear from them.
“If our agreement’s with them -- not with you, but with the owners of this thing -- they ought to be here,” Wolff said.
The non-relocation agreement lasts through the 2031-2032 season and carries penalties ranging from $84 million to $130 million for breaking it, depending on the year.
Though the agreement already allows the team to play two regular-season “home” games outside of the AT&T Center, Perez said the team has never done that. The contract doesn’t cover preseason games, he said, and even when the Spurs have previously played in Mexico, it has been as the visiting team.
Perez suggested the existing language in the agreement wasn’t clear enough, and it hadn’t been worth risking having to pay out millions of dollars in damages.