Nearly 50,000 people crowded into the Alamodome last week for the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, one of many high-profile events at the stadium, which celebrated its 30th anniversary on May 15. The multi-purpose indoor facility is home to UTSA’s football team and hosts everything from college basketball and school graduations to monster truck shows, conventions and WWE wrestling matches.
The venue held 135 events in 2022. During the final five months of the year, the facility hosted five headline concerts that drew nearly 230,000 fans and generated more than $31 million in gross receipts, including the two largest musical tours in the world last fall, Elton John and Bad Bunny. In December, the 30th Valero Alamo Bowl was played at the Alamodome.
“The Alamodome is a valued asset that has put our community on the map, and improved our quality of life on so many levels,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at an event last week to celebrate the stadium’s anniversary.
Former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros was the driving force behind the Alamodome, which cost $186 million to construct. At the time, he said the new venue was the beginning of a new chapter in San Antonio. Since its opening on May 15, 1993, nearly 34 million visitors have attended events at the Alamodome, which can accommodate about 65,000 fans, depending on the event.
A new study by St. Mary’s University Department of Economics Chair Steve Nivin, commissioned by the city’s Convention & Sports Facilities Department, highlights the stadium’s economic 30-year impact:
- $4 billion in total economic impact for San Antonio
- $628 million in revenue to city, county, state and federal governments, along with school districts
- $2.7 billion in direct spending by visitors to events
- $46.8 million in annual labor income
- $75.5 million in yearly gross regional product tied to the building
Beyond its economic impact, Nivin said the Alamodome also contributes to the city’s quality of life, making the most of its location across Interstate 37 from the Henry B. González Convention Center and downtown hotels, restaurants and other entertainment venues.
“These types of facilities are big drivers for tourism, hospitality, sports, arts and culture,” he said. “Being able to go big concerts and sporting events is important for a city — people like to live and visit where there are fun things to do.”
But as robust as the Alamodome’s economic impact has been, it’s also true that the aging stadium is facing an increasingly competitive market with a growing number of new, modern stadiums elsewhere with high-tech bells and whistles and luxury features.
The state of San Antonio’s arenas are in the spotlight following the San Antonio Spurs’ winning the right to the first pick of the 2023 NBA draft, a selection that will almost certainly be France’s Victor Wembanyama, a 19-year-old who stands 7 feet 4 inches. Fans and others have said the city needs a new arena for the Spurs, who play in the 20-year-old AT&T Center in an area that lacks nightlife options.
The Alamodome has a desirable downtown location, but the Spurs found it too cavernous for pro basketball and its lack of a true dome roof makes it less than ideal for other pro sports.
Millions in upgrades
“Stadiums and arenas go through different evolutionary stages,” said Walter Franco, a principal and research director at Victus Advisors, a sports consultancy firm that specializes in sports and entertainment facilities, including stadiums and arenas. “Usually, the useful life of a stadium is about 30 to 40 years before you need major upgrades.”
The City of San Antonio has poured millions into upgrading the Alamodome yet it still lacks some prized amenities compared to newer arenas, like luxury private seating options. To prepare for the 2018 men’s Final Four, the Dome underwent about $65 million in improvements, including new video boards, sound systems and LED lighting. During the COVID-19 pandemic, an $11 million retractable seating system was installed that can be shifted into different configurations to accommodate a variety of events.
San Antonio in 2022 committed about $109 million for Alamodome upgrades and additions through 2028. This includes nearly $25 million for the addition of 18 suites on the south end of the stadium and renovation of 52 existing suites to prepare for the 2025 men’s Final Four. The new suites will be a bit smaller than the current ones, but the walls will open to combine two or more suites into a large party room/suite area. The money will also go towards an upper-level facelift, including new paint, lighting and signage, as well as replacing elevators and escalators.
Still, those upgrades will give the Alamodome only the minimum number of suites the NCAA requires to host the men’s Final Four.
Franco points to older outdoor stadiums like Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, both of which have had major renovations over the years to the point where they seem brand new.
He said it’s also tough for the Alamodome to compete with new NFL stadiums like the Las Vegas Raiders’ Allegiant Stadium and Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, both of which have a variety of modern, luxury amenities, including exclusives suites, club lounges, as well as private, premium seating options close to the field.
“The major question to ask is what is the scenario where the Alamodome has a major league tenant, like the NFL,” Franco said. “If that’s not realistic, then you don’t want to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to have a modern stadium if you’re not going to have a major anchor tenant.”
Instead of the NFL, the Alamodome played host to the XFL, a reconstituted pro football league that held its inaugural championship game at the facility May 13.
Competing in other ways
Franco said to stay viable, the Alamodome, in keeping with industry trends, should emphasize smaller, open-air luxury and VIP suites and focus on a diverse mix of events to maximize its economic impact.
“Sometimes events like concerts, conventions, and rodeos can have a bigger impact than an event like the Super Bowl because of their consistency and frequency,” he said.
Nivin acknowledges that the Alamodome is never going to be able to compete for an NFL team. “You almost have to have a newer stadium to attract a major league team,” he said. “But it competes in a lot of other ways and allows us to host events we otherwise wouldn’t be able to have in San Antonio.”
Steve Zito, assistant director of convention and sports facilities and general manager of the Alamodome, also touts the stadium’s ability to draw big events and crowds but acknowledges that down the road San Antonio will need more to stay competitive.
“For the immediate future, we’re OK,” he said. “But at some point, San Antonio will have to look at building a new arena to compete with other cities and newer venues in order to land college football championships and other big events. But right now, we are holding our own.”
Zito points to the Alamodome’s packed schedule for the rest of 2023 and beyond, which includes concerts by Pink and Guns ‘N Roses. And the Alamodome will also host its fifth Men’s Final Four in 2025 and has been selected to host the Women’s Final Four in 2029.
“We’re rockin’ and rolling and I’m excited about the future,” Zito said.