City Clears the Course for American Ninja Warrior

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Pedestrians walk along Dolorosa street at Main Plaza as America Ninja Warrior stage preparations begin.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Pedestrians walk along Dolorosa Street at Main Plaza as American Ninja Warrior stage preparations begin.

Super-human strength, flawless technique, and a killer grip are a few requirements for making it through the obstacle course in NBC’s top-rated American Ninja Warrior. For a location city, the show requires space for a massive course, an eye-catching backdrop, “chamber weather,” and some road closures.

Each episode of the action-packed TV series features a different city, and San Antonio is one of six chosen for 2017. Construction for the show’s set has already begun in front of the Bexar County Courthouse in preparation for taping later this week.

American Ninja Warrior is the reality TV series that follows athletic competitors as they tackle a series of challenging obstacle courses. Those who finish qualify for a regional contest and the chance to compete in the finals in Las Vegas and a $1 million prize.

The prize for San Antonio is an estimated economic impact of $3.5 million, according to St. Mary’s University professor of economics Steve Nivin, who calculated the direct and indirect benefit of the 10-day shoot that will bring people, equipment, and contestants to the city and use locals to build the set.

“They’ve been talking about coming to San Antonio for a couple of years, but we finally worked with them to make it happen,” said Debbie Racca-Sittre, director of the City’s Department of Arts and Culture.  “With our film strategic plan, we wanted to have some major filmmaking done here in San Antonio. It was part of our plan to become film-friendly and that includes helping coordinate locations.”

The show’s producers collaborated with arts and culture department staff in choosing the Bexar County Courthouse for its historic quality and unobstructed grounds, which also is free of power lines.

San Antonio has been on the show’s radar ever since an episode of The Bachelorette was shot here in 2015, Racca-Sittre said. In addition, the city is home to an elite technical obstacle course of its own: Alpha Warrior is a replica site on the Northeastside where athletes and military service members train and compete.

Set production for the San Antonio episode of American Ninja Warrior began on March 20 and continues through March 29 with taping taking place in front of the courthouse on Dolorosa Street. That downtown street will be closed from North Flores to South St. Mary’s streets  throughout the shoot, as will Main Plaza Avenue from Dolorosa to Villita streets.

VIA Metropolitan Transit has redirected some of its bus routes.

About 7 million people are said to tune in for each episode of the two-hour show, the most of any major-network program on Monday nights.

So in addition to the initial economic impact, the city is set to secure another $57 million in earned media value, or what it would cost San Antonio to buy ads promoting the city another way. Though neither the City nor Bexar County paid for any of the costs related to bringing the show to San Antonio, Racca-Sittre said her office has provided the show’s producers with information about the city’s sights and events, including the Tricentennial celebrations, in the hope that hosts will share it with viewers as well.

“San Antonio is a city with an authentic and distinct look that we just couldn’t ignore,” said Kristen Stabile, American Ninja Warrior co-executive producer. “We’re excited to set up the course in the heart of an almost 300-year-old city with a spirit and energy that can be felt and seen both on and off camera.”

Taping starts March 26 and goes through the night, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Tickets to join the on-camera audience in the bleachers are sold out, but there is a waiting list.

Season 9 premiers June 14. The San Antonio episode is set to air in late June.

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