The Spurs won approval Tuesday from the Bexar County Commissioners Court to play games away from its home court at the AT&T Center.
The Spurs won approval Tuesday from the Bexar County Commissioners Court to play games away from its home court at the AT&T Center. Credit: Stephanie Marquez for the San Antonio Report

Bexar County commissioners on Tuesday approved a plan allowing the San Antonio Spurs to schedule games in Austin and Mexico City as part of their home game schedule for the 2022-2023 season. 

Some commissioners who were initially skeptical of the request said the team’s executives made a compelling case for playing some games away from the county-owned AT&T Center, positioning it as part of a broader effort to expand the Spurs’ audience from Mexico to Austin. 

“They need to, just like any business, grow their business,” said Commissioner Marialyn Barnard (Pct. 3), who voted in favor of the decision. “What we [the commissioners court] need to do is ensure that the Spurs stay here.”

The decision comes after Spurs executives surprised the Commissioners Court earlier this month by asking to amend their lease agreement with the county for two seasons, allowing the team to play four of its 41 regular season home games at other locations for each of the next two seasons.

Commissioners on Tuesday agreed instead to try the idea for one season, allowing the team to play two home games within 100 miles of the arena, likely at Austin’s new Moody Center. Another would be played at the Alamodome for the team’s 50th anniversary celebration, and yet another would be played outside of the country, likely in Mexico City.

Speaking to reporters after the decision was approved, Spurs Sports & Entertainment Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel Bobby Perez said the team is still “working with the league on getting all those items approved.”

Perez declined to weigh in on the Spurs’ ticket sales or the revenue goals associated with changing the location of home games.

“I think we always need to get better in everything that we do,” said Perez. “We see this as an opportunity to grow and we’re looking forward to it.”

In private meetings with commissioners ahead of the vote, however, Spurs owner Peter J. Holt said the team currently sells $1.9 million in tickets per season to purchasers in Austin.

Barnard, who signaled in a previous meeting that she did not support changes to the home game locations, said Tuesday that her conversations with Spurs executives had led her to believe they were making a fair request on behalf of their business interests. She said she’s also confident the Spurs plan to stay in San Antonio — something fans have worried could change.

Holt posted an open letter last week reassuring fans and city leaders of the team’s intention to remain in San Antonio and echoed those assurances in a video played for commissioners during the meeting.

“We truly believe that we are stewards of this team on your behalf,” Holt said in the video.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff told reporters after the meeting that Spurs ticket sales had “fallen off somewhat” in recent years, decreasing from about 90 percent attendance to closer to 80 percent.

In 2019, the Spurs were 13th in home attendance in the NBA, averaging 18,307 spectators per game. In 2022, they were 27th, averaging 15,014, according to ESPN. The team’s last winning season was in 2018-2019.

“When you’ve got a team that’s not winning, it’s probably expected,” Wolff said of the Spurs’ efforts to expand their audience. “You’ve got to build that fan base and draw a little bit more from other areas to make it work.”

Not all of the commissioners agreed with that approach.

Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2) proposed the one-year compromise, and made the motion to approve it Tuesday. It passed with support from Wolff, Barnard and Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores (Pct.1). Rodriguez said allowing the changes put “emotions aside” in the interest of the community’s partnership with the Spurs.

“I think you have to work with your business partner in making sure that you’re making each other successful,” he said.

Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) cast the lone no vote, urging the Spurs to look instead at opportunities to grow their business in San Antonio.

Calvert is pushing a development plan involving the Spurs that he says would help the team capitalize on the San Antonio metro area’s rapid population growth.

“The taxpayers have invested in the infrastructure of both the Alamodome and the AT&T Center,” said Calvert. “Every time we have a game in San Antonio, the [visiting fans] stay in hotels, they spend their money in restaurants here and they spend their money with the Spurs in San Antonio and accrue local taxes and revenue for the local community,” he added.

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Andrea Drusch

Andrea Drusch writes about local government for the San Antonio Report. She's covered politics in Washington, D.C., and Texas for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, National Journal and Politico.