Editor’s Note: Susan Blackwood, executive director of San Antonio Sports, presided over many of the Alamodome’s most memorable sporting events in her 16 years at the helm of our city’s sports commission.
Under Blackwood’s tenure, San Antonio Sports has hosted three NCAA Men’s Final Four Basketball Championships, two Women’s Final Fours, two NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championships and five years of the Rock ‘N Roll San Antonio Marathon & ½ Marathon. Since 1991, those events have had a direct economic impact of more than $400 million and have brought national and international media exposure to San Antonio.
Blackwood left her post at the end of 2012 to oversee governmental relations for the organization. During the current legislative session she has advocated for continuation of the Major Events Trust Fund, which has been used for infrastructure improvements so the Alamodome continues to attract premier amateur athletic events.
The 1989 vote to build the Alamodome was a gift from the community to itself. The ‘Dome was scheduled to open just in time for the 1993 U.S. Olympic Festival. It was built to jumpstart the sports tourism sector of our economy, but it has done so much more for San Antonio.
Even after our HemisFair ’68 coming out party, San Antonio was burdened with the “little brother” syndrome. We viewed ourselves as the little brother to Dallas, Houston and even Austin. Because we looked at ourselves this way, the rest of the country did, too. Often, it made us reluctant to invest in ourselves, because…why bother?
The ‘Dome vote was part of a two-decade process of changing our community self-image. Instead of wanting to become the next Dallas or Austin or Boston, we were ready to fully realize the promise of being San Antonio. Investing in the ‘Dome meant that we were going to compete with other cities to host NCAA Final Fours, Olympic Festivals, bowl games and concerts. A few even dreamed of the NFL.
The Alamodome, unlike many venues in other cities, was built debt-free. Built with a VIA sales tax that started to be collected well before construction began, the Alamodome was paid off within 18 months of opening. The initial investment of $186 million was recouped from our four NCAA Men’s Final Fours alone. Being built without debt and having an immediate inventory of big events, the outside dollars brought in to our community dropped straight to our economic bottom line.
Dreaming of the NFL taught us a few lessons, but suddenly our name was being mentioned in the same breath as San Diego, Miami, New Orleans, Baltimore, etc. Although the Spurs weren’t a part of the original plan, almost as soon as the election results were confirmed, Red was meeting with Henry to work on moving the Spurs to the ‘Dome. It was a major upgrade for the Spurs (leading to our first NBA Championship) and it allowed our convention business to grow by expanding the Convention Center into the old footprint of the Arena.
While some were dreaming NFL dreams, others were making dreams come true by going head-to-head with the most vibrant cities in the country and winning the rights to host the 1993 US Olympic Festival; the NCAA Men’s Final Four in 1998, 2004 and 2008; the NCAA Women’s Final Four in 2002 and 2010; and the NCAA Volleyball Final Four in 2011. The NBA validated the status of the Spurs as the best-managed franchise in the NBA by selecting San Antonio to host the 1996 NBA All-Star Weekend.
There is a lingering urban legend that the ‘Dome sits empty for months on end and then opens for the Alamo Bowl. For those of us who try to schedule events there, we know how false that image really is. To set the record straight, take a look at just a few of the other major sporting events that have brought hundreds of millions of out-of-town dollars to San Antonio:
- The Big 12 Football Championships in 1997, 1999 and 2007
- Alamo Bowl from 1993-2012 (19 of them)
- The largest-ever figure-skating event in U.S. history in 1993
- InterLiga Soccer (2 matches) 2005
- Dallas Cowboys Training Camps 2002, 2003, 207, 2009 and 2010
- Notre Dame (2009) and Texas A&M (2006) off-campus home football games
- UIL State Football Championships (almost too many to mention)
The ‘Dome has allowed San Antonio to host concerts that would have never come to San Antonio, like Paul McCartney’s New World Tour, Ozzfest, Brittany Spears, Boyz II Men’s Around the World Tour, The Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. But its music legacy isn’t merely super-tours.
The Alamodome has become the center of the marching band universe. Every summer, the Drum Corps International hosts its DCI Southwestern Championship in the Dome. Bands of America hosts its Super-Regional in the Dome every November and the UIL hosts the State Marching Band contest in the ‘Dome.
The community impact is also quite powerful. Whether it is entertainment events like concerts, Royal Rumbles, Monster Trucks, the AFL Talons, or the dozens of annual graduations, the ‘Dome has become a place for making memories. Religious mega-events like the 40,000 ELCA Youth Gathering and the Billy Graham Crusade in 2006 have changed our community spiritually. The ‘Dome’s home shows have become the must-do family event before home-improvement season every year.
Over its two decades anchoring the east side of Hemisfair Park, the Alamodome has become a gift to ourselves that keeps on giving. Whether it is bringing tens of millions of dollars to our community for mega-events, or bringing families together for graduations, the ‘Dome has become an old friend and it is an old friend that is looking forward to the next 20 years.
The Alamodome was recently bid as the site for the 2016 Olympic Swimming Trials. San Antonio lost that bid to Omaha, but undoubtedly the city is that much closer now to bringing the event here one day. San Antonio has once again been invited to bid to host one of the next round of Final Fours. If we are selected, the Final Four will again be in the Alamodome and San Antonio will be the “best site ever for a Final Four.”
Because we don’t have an NFL team, UTSA Football has become a prime tenant. Having the ‘Dome as its home field allowed UTSA to set single-game and single-season attendance records for a first-year FBS team. More importantly, it is going to accelerate UTSA’s development into a major football school.
With the development of elite youth soccer in San Antonio and the success of the Scorpions, plans are being laid for a major international soccer game in the ‘Dome every year, along with a college basketball tournament. The Alamodome is going stronger than ever.
After 20 years, it also needs some work, much like a 20-year old house. Fortunately, modest investments will reap big rewards. Major college football and basketball, international soccer, Olympic Trials and Final Fours, graduations and concerts, economic impact and family memories, this will be the next 20 years of the Dome.