Mayor Ron Nirenberg wears a Manu Ginobili jersey to honor the 16 year San Antonio Spur who announced his retirement on Monday.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg shows his support for the city's only major professional sports franchise in August after Manu Ginobili announced his retirement from the Spurs. Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg thinks San Antonio is due for another professional sports team – or at the very least a strategic plan on how to get one.

It has been more than seven years since the City of San Antonio and Bexar County contracted with a consultant to evaluate the area’s capabilities to add to its professional sports offerings.

The city and surrounding area has experienced tremendous growth and investment since then while also enduring the disappointment of being passed over as a new home to a National Football League franchise and a team in Major League Soccer.

Nirenberg told the Rivard Report this week he thinks it’s time to update the last pro sports study done on San Antonio in 2011 to see where the city stands now and where it might be in the coming years with projected growth numbers continuing to rise. The mayor said he plans to get that process underway in 2019, likely starting in the spring.

“It last showed us MLS and Triple-A [baseball] ready,” Nirenberg said. “I think the dynamic in San Antonio has changed dramatically since that report was updated last. So things have changed, and the trajectory that we’re on are certainly different, especially as it relates to downtown UTSA. That is changing the landscape. So we need to update that. We need to develop a strategic plan.”

Premier Partnerships, a consulting firm with offices in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, completed a review of the San Antonio market in 2011 “to ascertain the opportunity for major and minor league professional sports franchises in the San Antonio metropolitan market,” the company’s 271-page final report reads.

The study evaluated San Antonio’s ability to attract and support teams in the NFL, MLS, Major League Baseball, and minor league baseball as well as lower levels of professional soccer and Arena League Football.

The study concluded that MLS should be the City’s main target and that arena football and lower levels of soccer also would be appropriate pursuits. It suggested taking a “wait and see” approach when it comes to pursuing an NFL or MLB franchise, mostly because of the lack of long-term stadium options but also other factors such as having only six Fortune 500 companies anchored in the city and the median household income of $48,000 at the time.

The study didn’t rule out the possibility of an NFL or MLB team either relocating or being started here and finding success, but it said there were factors that would make it more difficult.

City and County officials believed they were taking steps toward attracting an MLS franchise in 2015 when they split the cost of acquiring Toyota Field for $18 million. But in October 2017, they were surprised when Columbus Crew ownership announced it was moving to Austin instead. It was another instance of franchises flirting with San Antonio only to chose a different home.

San Antonio currently supports the Spurs, the only major professional sports franchise here. In addition, the Rampage minor league hockey team, San Antonio FC of the United Soccer League, and the San Antonio Missions of minor league baseball round out the city’s pro sports franchises.

The San Antonio Commanders will play their inaugural season in the fledgling Alliance of American Football League early next year. Team officials said they have seen encouraging signs of support since the league was introduced this year.

San Antonio Commanders gear is displayed during a raffle.
The San Antonio Commanders will open its season at home Feb. 9 against the San Diego Fleet. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Nirenberg said he has no doubt San Antonio could and would support an NFL team and he wants to make sure the city is the first place existing NFL teams look if they’re considering relocation.

The Oakland Raiders were in that situation in 2015 and 2016 and had a months-long flirtation with the city before ultimately deciding to move to Las Vegas, beginning next season.

The Los Angeles Chargers are the NFL team most likely to consider a move in the coming years. The Chargers left San Diego prior to the 2017 season and have been playing home games in StubHub Center in Carson, California, with a seating capacity of 30,000.

The Chargers are scheduled to play their home games as a leased tenant at the Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park beginning in 2020 when that stadium in complete.

“When there is an opportunity for San Antonio to pursue an NFL team at a time and in a manner that would make sense for our community, we should take that opportunity,” Nirenberg said. “So as it relates to any specific team, that’s my position. There is a dynamic at play in Los Angeles that is not entirely in anyone’s control. The world ought to know that if the NFL called, and it was a legitimate call, we would respond and we would respond in a way that makes the most sense and provides the best community benefit.”

San Antonio is moving from AA baseball to AAA baseball this offseason with the Missions set to begin the 2019 season playing in the Pacific Coast League after more than 100 years in the Texas League. The Missions are pursuing a new stadium in San Antonio, with hopes that it will be located in or near downtown.

Nirenberg has steadfastly opposed any public funding for a minor league baseball stadium, though he says he is willing to evaluate proposals. The team has put none on the table to this point.

Nirenberg is keeping the door open to public funding to help build an NFL stadium in the future should the need arise. The 2011 pro sports study concluded that the Alamodome could serve as a temporary home to an NFL team if one chose to move here, but because stadiums are such huge revenue generators for the NFL, a new stadium would be needed in San Antonio to sustain an NFL franchise.

“My answer today is no,” Nirenberg said of public funding for an NFL stadium. “My answer on everything, however, is show me something to even judge because right now, it’s all speculation. We certainly are in no position to build an NFL stadium on public dollars today. Does that hold true 15-20 years from now or even five or 10 years from now? We have to judge it whenever we see it. We will judge any deal on its own merits. We haven’t seen that deal yet.”

Nirenberg said updating the last pro sports study would help the City and other entities with policy alignment and efforts toward making smart investments. It could also give City leaders a better idea of how far they have come and whether San Antonio really is any closer to becoming more than a one (major) sports team town.

Kyle Ringo

Kyle Ringo is a freelance journalist based in San Antonio. He has covered business, college athletics, the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball for numerous publications and websites.