In the last few seasons, fans have expressed growing concerns that the Spurs might move out of San Antonio as the franchise expands its footprint across central Texas. The Spurs play their final two home games at the Moody Center in Austin this week, and those worries have resurfaced. While those fears are understandable, let's explain what the Spurs are doing in the state capitol.
Expanding the Footprint
Though San Antonio is the seventh largest city in America, it is a smaller media market, ranking 31st according to 2022-23 Nielsen ratings. As Spurs fans know all too well, being in a small media market comes with complications. From a shortage of national media coverage to a lack of free agent draw, San Antonio has its limitations as a sports city.
Despite their limitations, the Spurs have an ace up their sleeves that other teams don't have: untapped nearby media markets.
This season, the Spurs have started taking advantage of local markets in Austin and Mexico City to expand their footprint with the fanbase. Neither of those cities has professional basketball history, but both are home to a G League team and growing interest in the sport. In a state that already has the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets, the Spurs must capitalize on the markets their interstate rivals haven't attempted to reel in.
Austin happens to be the perfect city for the Spurs to recruit into their fanbase. A little over an hour away, with a G League team and a growing economy, as companies flock to the area, it would be foolish for the Spurs not to take advantage of opportunities to expand their hold on the region.
Additionally, the Spurs are putting a lot of effort into expanding into Mexico as they play neutral games in Mexico City and team up with Mexican companies that are significant sponsors of their team. It's not just Austin the franchise is targeting.
However, sponsorships and advertising can only do so much to expand a fanbase. As head coach Gregg Popovich said in a recent press conference, "We [Spurs] have to make the effort to be seen." Playing two to three games out of a 41-home game schedule in these other markets is the effort the Spurs are making to put themselves in front of new fans.
Not only does their expanding footprint bring new fans, but it brings new opportunities in the form of sponsors. As mentioned earlier, the Spurs have already made deals with companies in Mexico and Austin. One of their most notable partnerships to come out of Austin is Self, which bought the rights to the jersey patch sponsorship.
Basketball is a business, and the Spurs are doing the right things to overcome their limitations without leaving their roots in San Antonio. The Spurs are expanding outwards instead of moving out of town to make more money and create more interest.
Why a Move to Austin isn't Realistic
While fans see Austin as the biggest threat to steal the Spurs, there are a handful of obstacles in the way of that idea.
Let us start with the team investing in San Antonio in the form of a new practice and health facility. In August 2021, the Spurs announced a new $510M training facility on the northwest side of San Antonio. The Rock at La Cantera will open before the start of next season and is one of the most significant developments that should keep the Spurs in the 2-1-0. A franchise looking to move to a new market would not invest this much money in a city they plan on leaving.
Another hurdle for Austin is its market size. Despite being the tenth largest city in the country, they have an even smaller media market than San Antonio, ranking 35th. Austin's history with professional sports is not extensive. Austin FC only recently joined Major League Soccer as college sports have dominated the city. Purposely moving into a community with an even smaller market and negligible history with professional sports would be an enormous gamble, not a safe bet.
Though Austin has the newest facilities at the brand-new Moody Center, it wouldn't be the home of an incoming professional team. While the Moody Center can expand to accommodate 16,000 fans, that would still make it the smallest arena in the league, with over 2,000 fewer seats than the AT&T Center, which has a capacity of a little over 18,000.
Additionally, major scheduling conflicts could arise as a professional team would share the space with the men's and women's basketball teams for the University of Texas. If Austin became the permanent host of the Spurs, they would need to build an arena. That comes with obstacles, and public funding would probably be necessary to cover construction costs.
Last but not least would be the San Antonio fanbase. The Spurs know just as well as everyone else that a permanent move to Austin would turn the whole city of San Antonio against them, a community they would still have to rely on to keep the franchise alive. The Spurs are trying to expand their fanbase, not ostracize generations of existing fans.
While concerns are valid, with other sports franchises moving cities in the past few years, several barriers make setting up camp in a new market difficult, including a non-relocation agreement. Fans shouldn't expect to see the Spurs move out of San Antonio anytime soon, let alone to Austin.