Hundreds of football fans made their way to the Alamo Beer Company last week to celebrate the coming debut of the San Antonio Brahmas, the city’s new XFL professional football team.
The team plays its first game Sunday at 2 p.m. against the St. Louis Battlehawks at the Alamodome, the same place where four years earlier another team from an upstart pro league — the San Antonio Commanders — didn’t even last a full season.
But despite former teams dissolving due to business problems, optimistic fans are ready for pro football and point to the XFL’s celebrity co-owner, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, as a reason this league may have staying power.
“We’re hoping this is successful,” said Paula Lawson, a member of a female fan group called the Brahma Mammas, “because we’ve got The Rock and a five year plan with them. We should be good.”
When the XFL announced plans to play a 10-game season of spring football, its leaders placed one of the league’s eight teams in San Antonio. The Brahmas brought in a big name as coach: former Pittsburgh Steelers star wide receiver Hines Ward, who won two Super Bowl rings and was the championship game’s MVP in 2005.
In a recent interview, Ward said he had three goals this season: have the best special teams in the league, have 20% of the Brahmas roster in the NFL next season and win the XFL championship.
The league, originally started by pro wrestling promoter Vince McMahon, came under new ownership — including Johnson, entrepreneur Dany Garcia and RedBird Capital Partners — in 2020 after it declared bankruptcy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fans who attended the celebratory fan fest showed their spirit by wearing Brahmas t-shirts and wearing the teams colors; yellow, black and white. Those who didn’t have merchandise just yet sported yellow accessories, like sunglasses and hats, and for others, a can of Brahmas-branded beer in their hand was enough.
Fan Steve Canto called the turnout Thursday night “huge” and has high hopes for the team and the league, which has a television deal with ABC and ESPN.
“This might be something San Antonio will have, and it’ll take off. People are going to come, especially with a winning product, they will come,” Canto said.
Alamo Beer Company CEO Eugene Simor, whose company produces the official Brahmas brew and is a team sponsor, said he believes the team has a better chance at lasting longer than the Commanders, pointing out the Brahmas’ NFL-style football, not arena football, and differences in the league’s financing structure.
“We’re excited about [the team],” Simor said, adding the brewery will host watch parties when the team is on the road and pre-game and post-game celebrations throughout the season.
Professional football teams have a history of not lasting in San Antonio, not because of the fan base, but because of the business operations and ownership groups, said Leo Llamas, host of the Smokin’ Gunz Podcast, which covers the San Antonio Gunslingers of the National Arena League, another upstart pro team that plays at Freeman Coliseum.
“Ownership groups have tried to do too much at once or misrepresented what they were able to invest or what they were capable of,” he said.
The San Antonio Commanders and the Alliance of American Football were a case in point, Llamas said.
In 2019, the Commanders played all of four games at the Alamodome before their league folded. They were the short-lived league’s most successful team in terms of attendance, attracting more than 27,000 fans per game. But the league’s founders and initial investors did not have the financial resources in place to get the eight-team league through even one season, and the AAF declared bankruptcy in April 2019.
Before the Commanders came and went, other upstart leagues like the World Football League, the World League of American Football and the Arena Football League set up shop in the city. Even longer ago, there was the United States Football League of the 1980s, which had a San Antonio team called the Gunslingers.
As for the XFL, ticket sales for Sunday’s game have been brisk, and fans are already hyped for the season.
“We want them to stick and be successful, so we’re trying to get as many fans as we can,” said Brahmas Mammas member Lawson.
This story has been updated to correct the date of the first Brahmas game.