SAN ANTONIO – It’s the million -- or at this point billion-dollar question when it comes to the future of professional sports in the Alamo City. Will San Antonio ever get an NFL franchise?
The city’s dreams of having its own NFL team have been dashed over decades.
The last flirtation with the NFL occurred in the summer of 2014 when a City of San Antonio delegation rolled out the red carpet for Raiders owner Mark Davis.
As it turned out, Davis was merely using San Antonio as leverage to get a new stadium built. He got his wish except it was in Las Vegas where the Raiders relocated this season.
It’s been mostly quiet on the NFL front since then, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. San Antonio has a way to go before it can be a viable location in the eyes of the NFL.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg believes that after years of chasing an NFL franchise, the city is now going about the process the right way.
“If there’s not that corporate base, pro sports franchises look elsewhere. And one of the things that has hindered that corporate base for decades in San Antonio is the fact that we didn’t have enough workers to fill the positions that they would want to move here,” said Nirenberg. “That’s why we’re investing in our own people and access to education, access to skills training and workforce development. So when we want to take those jobs that are available, we have the people to do it. And that’s improving our economic trajectory. That’s also improving the prospects for pro sports here.”
1/3 Interviewed Mayor @Ron_Nirenberg recently for this week's #KSATexplains episode on future of pro sports and NFL in San Antonio.— RJ Marquez (@KSATRJ) January 22, 2021
Mayor stands by belief San Antonio will be an NFL city within 10 years. Says city is focusing on workforce development. #KSATnews #KSATsports pic.twitter.com/FiS8J1VhZN
It’s no secret that the San Antonio area is one of the fastest-growing areas in the U.S.
San Antonio is already the seventh most populous city in the country, but it is also considered to be one of the poorest big cities in the U.S.
Nirenberg said the city is making a more concerted effort to take on poverty and make sure people have better access to a good, quality education.
“That’s how we lift the prospects of our city and help us to evolve from a low wage city to one that has much more strength to build and invest in public infrastructure,” said Nirenberg. “When we have a strong workforce, we begin to attract many more of the employers that become the financial base that ultimately begin to invest in the pro sports franchises.”
In 2018, the mayor made national headlines when he told KSAT that San Antonio would be an NFL city within 10 years. He stood by that claim in a recent interview and feels San Antonio’s geographic location also adds to its overall appeal.
“I said I think last year or the year before, I think San Antonio is an NFL city within 10 years, I still stand by that,” said Nirenberg. “And that is because of the evolution that’s happening within the National Football League, the fact that it too is becoming an international league, particularly with its sights on Latin America.”
Still, there are many that push back on that timeline, including UTSA economics professor Les Doss.
“From a standpoint of feasibility, the answer would be no,” said Doss. “I don’t personally think that San Antonio has the wealth overall to put 60,000 people in a stadium 10, 11 times a year. The cheapest ticket to get into the AT&T Center is like $60. If you take your family, your wife and kids, you can drop $800-900 to go to a football game. San Antonio doesn’t have wealth associated with it.”
Doss believes a possible avenue for San Antonio to get an NFL franchise would be through a San Antonio-based billionaire or family that is willing to push the agenda to bring a franchise to the area, but he wouldn’t count on it happening any time soon.
“If you can find a San Antonio owner like the Holt family, that is a classic example. It would be feasible, but I’m not sure you can be realistic. You’re not going to convince the NFL to put a franchise in San Antonio between Dallas and Houston,” said Doss. “It would take an incredibly wealthy human to cough up a lot of money to bring a team to San Antonio.”
There have been San Antonians who have owned NFL franchises in the past. Red McCombs owned the Minnesota Vikings and Tom Benson owned the New Orleans Saints before he passed away.
His wife, Gayle Benson, is still the principal owner of the franchise. And yet, San Antonio has never been able to attain an NFL franchise.
Nirenberg said he’s optimistic about San Antonio’s future with professional football but adds that the sports landscape has been “rocked by this pandemic and clearly we aren’t out of it yet.”
“Clearly there’s still a fan base and sports are a way that people can escape, but one of the things that the pandemic has forced many of us to do is to examine some of the important parts of our lives,” said Nirenberg.
“In terms of San Antonio’s outlook compared to any other city in the United States, I view ours as right at the top of the list because of that strategic investment, the decisions by the voters to invest in our people,” said Nirenberg. “Our outlook on pro sports is very bright and I’m excited as a sports fan.”
(Watch this week’s episode of KSAT Explains. Episode 21 looks at the future of pro sports in San Antonio from NFL to Spurs.)