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The San Antonio Spurs & the NBA’s New Megamarket Model

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
Remembering the Alamo but meeting fans where they’re at, learn how the 50-year-old franchise is expanding its reach while still staying rooted in River City.

Last weekend in Austin, Texas, the biggest names in sports, business, and entertainment congregated at the Moody Center for a two-day spring spectacle.

The likes of Alex Rodriguez, Sue Bird, Micah Parsons, Tom Segura, Tony Parker, Rodney Terry, and more were joined by thousands of fans feverishly flocking to the University of Texas campus to witness something they’d never seen before: an NBA basketball game in the state’s capitol.

Having more attendees than a Justin Bieber concert almost a year prior, the Spurs set the record for the newly opened Moody Center at the showing against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

More than just beginner’s luck, the Spurs have been laying a foundation in Austin for years through philanthropy, youth basketball camps, and a G-League affiliate.

Unbeknownst to most outside of Central Texas, the team’s building a brand that permeates city limits and international borders.

For fans in the north attached to major markets, such a statement may seem shocking. For those that live in River City, it may be even more jarring.

Make no mistake, the Spurs are not leaving San Antonio.

However, the AT&T Center is not the only venue that will host home games.

Speaking to Spurs stars and ownership, Boardroom breaks down the multi-regional rise of the San Antonio team that’s set records and defied expectations in the franchise’s 50th-season celebration, potentially providing the blueprint for the Association as a whole.

Texas’ Team

The San Antonio Spurs 2022-23 season ended where the franchise’s origin story began.

Traveling to Dallas for a 138-117 shellacking of the Mavericks, the rebuilding roster capped this year’s campaign with a win in the city they once occupied as an ABA team.

Known as the Dallas Chaparrals in the ’60s and early ’70s, the club changed its name to the Texas Chaparrals for a single season to attract more fans before eventually moving to San Antonio and rebranding as the Spurs in 1973.

Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Since then, the San Antonio squad has elicited fanfare all over the Lone Star State, namely in cities in Central Texas sans an NBA outfit.

“I was born in Corpus Christi,” Peter J. Holt, managing partner for the Spurs, told Boardroom. “Even there as a little kid, Corpus Christi has a massive Spurs following. Growing up we were fans there, and when we moved to the San Antonio area we were season ticket holders.”

Like many kids that move from a smaller city to a more metropolitan area, Holt brought his fandom with him and thrived it.

Unlike the majority of tikes cheering on the likes of David Robinson and Avery Johnson, his proximity to the team would mean more than just sharing a 210 area code.

“When I was 9, my parents said, ‘There may be an opportunity to help the Spurs. What that means is we would be part of an ownership group that would help the Spurs build a new home and stay in San Antonio forever,'” Holt recalls.

His reaction was no different than the average elementary student’s.

“All I remember was, ‘Oh cool! I can meet the coyote and go on the court!’ So my vote was all in. At the time, I probably thought I could play for the Spurs.”

Now, at age 36, Holt knows the coyote well and plays a pivotal role in the team he grew up rooting for. Currently, he is the controlling owner of the Spurs as part of a large and diverse ownership group. Like the group he represents, he sees Spurs fandom as diverse and also large.

That’s why the team’s 50th season started with a home game in San Antonio but soon saw hosting gigs far beyond the AT&T Center.

Due South

In many senses, the San Antonio Spurs were the NBA’s first international franchise.

Despite teams popping up in Vancouver and Toronto or the eclectic and electric roster of the early 2000s Sacramento Kings, it was the Texas team’s big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili that proved players and perspectives from all over the world result in championship teams and record-setting attendance.

Representing the Virgin Islands, France, and Argentina through the Spurs stars, the team’s role players, staff, and execs eventually exemplified a similar global gumbo. While personnel spanned Australia to Brazil, the closest country for the team to take their talents was 150 miles away.

“Our participation in Mexico has been going on for almost a decade now,” Holt says. “We wanted to make it our home game and the NBA does a phenomenal job of helping to curate that.”

Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images

As alluded to and broadcast on TV, the San Antonio Spurs hosted a home game in Mexico City this past December against the Miami Heat. Over 20,000 fans from far and wide attended, making the most of a market that not only lacks a proper NBA team in its region but also a city that claims a population of over 22 million people.

For reference, that’s more people than both New York City and Los Angeles — two US markets that house two teams each where the NBA is concerned. A two-hour flight from San Antonio to Mexico City proves a natural segue to Spurs and league fandom.

“Basketball is growing as a worldwide phenomenon and it’s such a good thing,” Holt says. “For decades, it’s been a two-way street between teams and the NBA brainstorming to expand that reach.”

Statistically speaking, the Spurs claim five million fans in Mexico, according to YouGov. Since 1994, the team has played both preseason and regular season games south of the US border in an effort to expand its market share. Seven total games in said span prove more Mexico outings than any other NBA team.

Still, it’s only one piece of the puzzle.

Stadium Status

Beneath the border, soccer is king despite how many games the Spurs win this decade or next.

Even in Texas, basketball plays second fiddle to football with baseball and track also being big attractions at amateur and professional levels.

Still, it’s the cross-pollination of venues and ventures within San Antonio itself that keeps the Spurs exciting on top of being consistent. Such was the case when the team, despite having a dire record, set an NBA attendance achievement in a place they used to call home.

Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

Returning to the Alamodome, a San Antonio staple the Spurs played at from 1993 to 2002, the team took on its old digs in hopes of setting a new NBA attendance record.

For the famous alum turned current sideline staff, the memories proved powerful but the mark was not daunting.

“Instead of getting 30,000 like we used to, we’re going to get 65,000,” Spurs legend Sean Elliott told Boardroom in 2022. “That’s going to be incredible to be in that atmosphere because I know that we’re going to do it. I already know that San Antonio is going to turn out for it.”

Months later, the former All-Star forward proved right.

Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

On Jan. 13, 2023, the Spurs played their first home game in the Alamodome in years. For fan-turned-partner Peter J. Holt, the setting was nostalgic and a replay of his childhood.

Seeing the bigger picture, it was also an insight into how much the franchise grew local loyalty despite already having the city on lock.

“I’m confident in saying we had thousands of people seeing their first Spurs game ever because of that Alamodome game,” Holt says. “Because of the pricing, because of the community partners that we brought in.”

More than just a headline or a stunt, the Alamodome outing invested in the fanfare that’s long supported the San Antonio Spurs but perhaps never stepped inside AT&T Arena.

“Whether it was the military, the judicial system, teachers, and education, we had thousands of tickets in partnership programs. For that to happen in the dome where we won our first championship? That was very special and we set the attendance record and put a new mark in history,” Holt said.

Having 68,323 attendees, a slew of San Antonio residents got to see their first NBA game in-person while also catching the league’s main attraction: Steph Curry and the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

It was a spectacle that increased fanfare in the team’s home base but also a nod that being a megamarket team means constant creativity and a larger sense of domain.

Campus Invasion

When the University of Texas began breaking ground on the $375 million Moody Center, the ambition acts they looked to house ranged from global pop stars to monster truck rallies. Still, the focus was basketball, that of their male and lady Longhorn teams.

A state-of-the-art space smack dab in the middle of the Lone Star State, the proximity to a pro team also proved enticing.

To close out the 2022-23 NBA season, the Spurs hosted their final two home games in Austin. In the capital of Texas’ NBA opening, they set venue records, beating Bieber and Lizzo in turnout.

For fans fearful that the Spurs will move miles up I-35 to the flourishing tech town, don’t be. Following the second night of the roundball residency, Spurs CEO R.C. Buford assured the media that the team would remain in San Antonio but continue to align with partners in other regions.

John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As illustrated in previous pit stops, it’s all a plan to provide a megamarket experience simply by meeting unserved fans exactly where they’re at.

“It’s a bit of a misnomer that the Spurs are focusing on other markets,” says Holt. “That’s not how I view it. We’re focused on our market. Austin, Corpus Christi, Laredo, and down to Monterey? I actually view that as our market. Historically, we’ve engaged in a really organic way. Now we’re looking to build on that. Our language and our activations are a little more direct.”

Having served Spurs fans from far outside of San Antonio for decades, direct initiatives are a branding play to further recognize fans outside of their core base while not neglecting the city they’ve long called home. It’s equal parts basketball and community service as the Spurs have long-held youth camps, philanthropic projects, and other activations in their extended markets.

In recent years, the franchise has headed out to Uvalde to assist in devastation relief while constantly combatting issues such as poverty and voter suppression inside of San Antonio. This type of energy is echoed by Coach Gregg Popovich’s inspired speech about gun control in a recent postgame press conference as well as the team’s $500,000 donation to park renovation in Austin.

It’s new in national attention, but it’s an age-old adage in regard to Spurs’ sentiment.

“Going back 25 years? A ton of that wasn’t manufactured,” says Holt. “What was focused was a ton of the things that we did around community impact: youth sports camps, scholarships, and Spurs Give. We made an explicit goal on not just San Antonio but around all the community and that’s what I’m most proud of.”

While the San Antonio Spurs are set on remaining as the San Antonio Spurs — a name and locale they’ve amplified for 50 years and running — the next 50 years will continue to see basketball without borders in Texas, Mexico, and beyond.

Home is Where You Make It

Outside of a rebellious Raiders game, you’d be hard-pressed to find more black and silver per capita than that of San Antonio.

Serving as the city’s only big four franchise, the Spurs are the biggest show in town and absolutely beloved. Despite a rebuilding record that will likely land them atop of the NBA Draft lottery this summer, the San Antonio squad still has the highest winning percentage in NBA history, backed by five titles.

While the team has struck gold twice by bringing in David Robinson and Tim Duncan with No. 1 picks, hopes for Victor Wembanyama or another arising superstar have long loomed this season. Always planning ahead while still enjoying the moment, the franchise has used its 50th anniversary to expand its Texas and Mexico markets with active fans and players both relishing in the opportunity.

“It’s a privilege,” Spurs forward Keldon Johnson told Boardroom. “To see Mexico City accept us and take care of us? Same thing with Austin.”

Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

This season, Johnson averaged 22 points per game and appeared as the face of a franchise beloved by fans both locally and miles away from the AT&T Center.

“The Mexico City atmosphere was crazy and the Alamodome is something I’ll never forget,” Johnson says. “It was sold out and packed. To see Spurs fans in Mexico City and the Alamodome? I know they’re going to show out in Austin as well.”

After a win over the Trail Blazers in the team’s Austin debut, Johnson took to the mic to make sure all attendees came back two nights later for their home finale against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Technically speaking, Austin is not home for the San Antonio Spurs nor does it intend on taking the team. Rather, the franchise is expanding its fanfare as other teams will soon follow suit.

For Peter J. Holt, also the CEO of HOLT CAT construction, building the reach of the team he grew up on is as exciting as it gets in imaginative expansion and ground-level giveback.

“Will be in Poland with Jeremy [Sochan]? Will be with Gorgui [Dieng] at Basketball Africa and his engagement in Senegal?” Holt ponders. “We want to follow the energy of our players, our fans, our leadership, and our communities. I don’t know where that takes us in our future. We have incredible social media everywhere from the Philippines to Columbia up to Canada.”

As Adam Silver continues to grow the game and NBA brand in every country and corner of the world, it’s fitting that the Spurs — a multinational team years before it was the league-wide norm — is at the core of catalyzing this megamarket approach both domestically and abroad.

“The pillars of success for the Spurs are positive community impact, championship teams on and off the court, and financial strength,” says Holt. “With that vision, we want to go where the energy is. We’ve been so lucky to have engaged with fans that are diverse in where they’re from, their interests, and their desires.”

With the 50th season behind them and an exciting summer that will continue to shape the team’s trajectory for the next half-century, the Spurs will stay in San Antonio but continue to work, play, and give in cities and countries outside of it.

“For the NBA and the global game of basketball, it’s about how much good we can do and how much more we can be doing,” Holt says. “The NBA does such a phenomenal job at curating experiences and our team at the Spurs is fully aligned with that. To be in Mexico, to be in the Alamodome, and capping the season in Austin? It’s a thrilling piece that’s a nod to the 50 years that we’ve been around.”

More importantly, it’s a nod to what the next 50 years of NBA basketball will look like for the Spurs and the league.

“This nod to being megaregional is really exciting.”

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About The Author
Ian Stonebrook
Ian Stonebrook
Ian Stonebrook is a Staff Writer covering culture, sports, and fashion for Boardroom. Prior to signing on, Ian spent a decade at Nice Kicks as a writer and editor. Over the course of his career, he's been published by the likes of Complex, Jordan Brand, GOAT, Cali BBQ Media, SoleSavy, and 19Nine. Ian spends all his free time hooping and he's heard on multiple occasions that Drake and Nas have read his work, so that's pretty tight.