Editor’s note: Michael Sawaya is the Director of the Convention, Sports, and Entertainment Facilities (CSEF) Department for the City of San Antonio. His department has responsibility for operations of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Lila Cockrell Theatre, the Alamodome (which includes the Illusions Theatre), and the Carver Community Cultural Center.
The Alamodome operated as an independent department of the City of San Antonio until 2006, when it was consolidated with the Convention Facilities Department to form the Convention, Sports, and Entertainment Facilities (CSEF) Department.
All of the facilities in the CSEF Department are supported by the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) Fund and receive no funding from the City’s General Fund. That’s right – the Alamodome is funded by revenues from spending at events held there and by visitors who stay in local hotels.
With a goal of ensuring efficient operations, these city-owned facilities, share management expertise and leadership that has enabled the Alamodome to flourish in recent years as a multi-purpose venue that offers varietal and affordable entertainment for the San Antonio community.
While in its storied past, “the Dome” has hosted professional sports (Spurs, NBA All-Star Games, NFL), the benefit and value of this multi-faceted facility has been realized in many more ways than originally envisioned. A study conducted in 2013 by the Saber Research Institute showed that since 2003, the Alamodome has had an overall economic impact of more than $1.7 billion on the local economy and supported roughly 18,000 full-time equivalent jobs over this ten-year period.
While San Antonio has long been known for its terrific tourism infrastructure and unique historical and cultural appeal, many events would not have been possible without the Alamodome. Since 1993, the annual Valero Alamo Bowl has had an average attendance of more than 60,000 and is often one of the most watched college football bowl games nationally each season. In 2009, the Alamodome also played host to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s first home game outside of South Bend.
The NFL has been no stranger to the Alamodome either. The Dallas Cowboys held training camp in the Dome in 2002, 2003, 2007, and 2009, boasting one of the largest training camp attendance records in the history of the NFL.
In 2006, San Antonio was able to open its doors to victims of the devastating Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, including hosting the New Orleans Saints for three sold-out games. The Alamodome has also been the site of the NCAA Men’s Final Four on three occasions (1998, 2004 and 2008) and the Women’s Final Four in 2002 and 2010.
In 2011, the Alamodome once again showed its tremendous benefit to San Antonio by becoming the home of the upstart UTSA Roadrunners football team.
Setting a record of 55,000 attendees for its inaugural home opening game in 2011, UTSA is proud to call the Alamodome home for the next 25 years.
To quote UTSA Athletic Director Lynn Hickey: “Three teams in Texas play in a domed stadium: the Cowboys, the Texans, and the Roadrunners!” Having a fabulous indoor football stadium located in one of the most desirable tourist destinations in the United States gives UTSA tremendous benefits in allowing it to grow and prosper as a top-tier educational institution.
Also new in 2012, the Alamodome welcomed its second tenant in the Arena Football League San Antonio Talons. The Talons, having relocated from Tulsa, had average attendance of more than 6,000 and amassed a 14-4 record in the team’s first season in San Antonio.
Beyond sporting events, the multi-faceted Alamodome has enabled the city to host some of the largest conventions in the world. The 2010 Al-Anon convention drew more than 65,000 attendees who gathered in the Alamodome for the opening general session. In 2015, San Antonio’s Alamodome will welcome close to 100,000 attendees for the International Seventh Day Adventist Conference.
After being part of the San Antonio community since 1926, the Municipal Auditorium closed its doors in 2010. While it will be replaced by the beautiful new Tobin Center fo the Performing Arts in 2014, its closing left a void in the city’s inventory of large facilities that can host more than 4,000 in a theatre setting. Again, the Alamodome came to the rescue. In Fall 2010, the new Illusions Theatre was created inside the northeast corner of the Alamodome.
As a conversion theatre, the staff at the Alamodome creates an illusion of an intimate theatre setting with seating of from 1,000 to 11,000. The Illusions Theatre is perfect for concerts, boxing events, and multi-media presentations and was recently named by Venue Magazine as one of the top 5 venues in Texas in 2012.
While the Municipal Auditorium hosted high school and college graduations for more than 80 years, graduates were limited to four family members in attendance due to the auditorium’s capacity of just under 5,000. With on-site parking for more than 2,000 cars, the Illusions Theatre at the Alamodome recently hosted the first-ever UTSA graduation held off campus this year, where more than 4,400 students graduated and more than 40,000 onlookers attended.
After the departure of the Spurs, the Alamodome averaged 100 event days per year until 2006. In 2013, the Alamodome will host about 150 event days – far exceeding the number of events held at other domed stadiums around the country.
Each year, such events as Monster Jam, Disney on Ice, Barnum and Bailey Circus, Cheer Power, Army All American Bowl, Homebuilder’s Show, Home and Garden Show, Drum Corps International, and many more comprise an affordable entertainment mix at the Alamodome. There appears to be no limit to what can be held there.
New for 2013, the highly-anticipated Big League Weekend saw for the first time professional Major League Baseball in the Alamodome. One of the biggest crowds ever to see professional baseball in Texas, close to 75,000 fans, packed the Alamodome over a two-day period to watch the Texas Rangers vs. the San Diego Padres.
Three weeks later, the Alamodome was again filled with boxing fans as Mexico’s favorite son, WBC Middleweight Champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez won a consolidation title bout over WBA Middleweight Champion Austin “No Doubt” Trout. Close to 40,000 enthusiastic fans packed the Alamodome for a nationally televised bout on Showtime, making it one of the highest attended boxing events in San Antonio history and one of the best attended in the U.S. in 2013.
Continuing a banner year, on June 1, 2013, the Dome will host the final tour concert for country music superstar legend George Strait. After Strait drew a capacity crowd of more than 56,000 in the Alamodome in 2010 (the largest indoor concert in the U.S. that year), the venue was expanded to a record 72,000 seats for the coming event, and was sold out in record time.
On Labor Day Weekend, the People En Español Festival kicks off with major concerts in the Alamodome that features headliner Gloria Estefan and a full slate of the top Latino artists in the world. On September 7, the UTSA Roadrunners will host the Oklahoma State Cowboys at the Alamodome, and a crowd of more than 50,000 is expected.
As the Alamodome celebrates its 20-year anniversary this year, many thanks go out to the visionary leaders who saw value to our local community beyond just a professional sports stadium. The Alamodome is a cost-effective, multi-dimensional venue that has produced memories and enjoyment for our citizens for so many years, and will continue to be a valued asset to San Antonio in the years to come.