Current 25: Spurs still cashing in on Bexar voters' generosity


Would you spend $315.36 for an evening of basketball with your family?

According to the 2010 NBA Fan Cost Index, released yearly by the Illinois-based Team Marking Report, that’s how much it costs for a family of four in San Antonio to enjoy a game. The amount is arrived at by calculating four tickets, two small draft beers, four small sodas, four hotdogs, one parking spot (most likely in the next county), two programs, and two of the cheapest adult-sized hats one can find in the team store.

Deducting beers, programs, and hats, you can save about $54.

The good news is that the San Antonio Spurs offer some of the cheapest beer, sodas, and parking in the NBA, according to the Fan Cost. The bad news is the Spurs’ total cost is still more than $27 above the league average — or one beer, two sodas, two hotdogs, and a better parking spot.

To fill the AT&T Center (originally the SBC Center) game after game, the Spurs’ management knew the best strategy involved winning. Between 2002 and 2007, the team won an astounding three titles. Take out a Derek Fisher .04-second buzzer beater in 2004 and a 2006 heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, and the Spurs could have very well been looking at five straight years of utter dominance.

Prior to that illustrious run, local voters were being asked about more than ticket prices. In the build-up to a November 1999 vote they were being asked to publicly fund a new arena. More than 60 percent of Bexar County voters checked the “yes” box, agreeing to pay $146.5 million for the arena. By establishing a 1.75-percent hotel-occupancy tax and a 5-percent motor vehicle rental tax to cover the costs, Bexar voters showed that while, yeah, we wanted the thing, we wanted our weekend and summer guests to foot the bill.

The high price of sporting arenas is not only a San Antonio issue, but one concerned citizens across the United States grapple with. On one side of the debate, spectators frequently wonder why they should be footing the majority of the bill for the millionaire owners of private enterprise (corporate welfare, anyone?). On the other side, team owners frequently respond with blackmail (don’t want to lose your team to another city? Pony up.). Look up the Seattle SuperSonics for a case in point.

Call it coincidence, but the November night the measure passed with more than 60 percent of the vote was the same night the Spurs kicked off their 1999-2000 season with Commissioner David Stern handing out the team’s first-ever championship rings. “The Spurs took advantage of the community high after winning the championship and capitalized on that,” said Heywood Sanders, professor of public policy at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Former mayor Howard Peak had long contended that if the Spurs were to receive a new arena it should be funded by a one-eighth-cent sales tax so as not to penalize our prized tourism. Peak also wanted the new arena to be located directly adjacent to the city-owned Alamodome and close to downtown restaurants and hotels.

Still, the Spurs liked Bexar County’s deal rather than the City of San Antonio’s. The county’s deal offered cheaper rent over a longer period — $1.3 million over 25 years as opposed to $1.5 million over 20 years. With the county, the Spurs also got control of the arena as operator, the ability to negotiate naming rights, and all parking, advertising, and arena rentals revenue. (The city, some of you may remember, wanted to serve as the facility’s operator, receive concessions revenue, have a hand in naming rights, and get a chunk of food and beverage sales from suites, ticket sales, facility fees, and parking.)

The only perceived shortcoming in the county’s offer was that the Spurs would be forced to concede control of the arena for the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo once a year — three weeks out of every 52.

“In essence the Spurs were handed a blank check,” said Sanders when discussing the county’s offer. “If the Spurs wanted a WNBA team or a hockey team or concerts, they were in the position to put it on and reap the profits.”

What a deal.

So while you pay for the tickets and vote for the proposals, the Spurs are never truly your team. Unless, of course, you live in socialist Green Bay.

So, let’s start over: Would you spend $261.36 for an evening of basketball with your family? There’s no beer in that, and no hat. Take it or leave it.

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