Austin is the biggest city in the country without a big-four professional sports team. That’s not a slight to Austin FC, the MLS squad that brought pro soccer to town two years ago — and has enjoyed a warm reception and full stadium ever since. But with a population of nearly one million people (and more arriving daily), there’s a glaring absence of professional football, basketball, baseball or hockey — especially when you consider that smaller cities like Minneapolis and Cleveland are flush with franchises.
For years, detractors said that pro sports couldn’t compete with the University of Texas and its outsized influence on Austin sports, but that tide has been changing, thanks in part to Austin FC’s success. Now, one established team wants to capitalize on this sports-hungry market, and they’re located just 80 miles down the road.
The San Antonio Spurs are coming to town for games on April 6 and April 8, playing the Portland Trailblazers and then the Minnesota Timberwolves. Both games will take place at Moody Center, the shiny new home of the UT men’s and women’s basketball teams that doubles as a 15,000-seat concert venue.
These games are being dubbed the “I-35 Series” in a nod to the highway that connects the two cities, and they will mark the first regular-season NBA games ever played in Austin. It’s all part of the Spurs’ season-long 50th-anniversary celebration, and the games are just part of a slate of events that will make up “Spurs Week,” in an effort to engage fans in the community. They’re even creating “Casa de Spurs” at Native Hostel to serve as the Spurs’ headquarters for the week, with photo ops, games, and giveaways.
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“A lot of thought went into this, and we want to be intentional and purposeful about the Spurs integrating into Austin,” says Brandon James, the SVP of strategic growth and the deputy general counsel for Spurs Sports & Entertainment. The Spurs established an office in Austin to run marketing, branding and sales in the city, and these games are a manifestation of those efforts. “We want Austin people and businesses to identify with the Spurs as their NBA team,” he tells InsideHook.
Following the I-35 Series, the Spurs will look to continue their relationship with Austin. What that means in terms of games played is currently undecided, but James says the intent is for the Spurs to become a regular presence in Austin during the season. The goal is to find balance with a number of games that are comfortable for San Antonio while meeting Austin’s desire for basketball.
James, who lives in Austin, notes that Austin is a transient city that draws people from all over the country. Many are used to having NBA basketball teams in their hometowns, and others are team agnostic. Either way, he thinks the Spurs are primed to capitalize on the Austin audience. But he’s quick to note that the Spurs are tied to San Antonio and have a loyal fan base, so this isn’t an escape plan. Rather, it’s a salvo against the notion that Austin doesn’t have pro basketball. He alludes to fans in other metro areas, including Los Angeles, New York, Houston, and Dallas, who often commute 75 to 90 minutes to attend games. With a little push, he thinks Austinites will do the same to attend the occasional game in San Antonio.
“We want to be Austin’s professional basketball team,” he says. “The city has been super receptive, and they are hungry for pro sports and NBA basketball. We’re hoping to satiate that appetite.”
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