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NFL to San Antonio?


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Tom Orsborn and Jaime Castillo

Express-News Staff Writers

As mayoral hopeful Phil Hardberger continued to express enthusiastic support for pursuing San Antonio's NFL dreams Wednesday, the man who currently holds the job said he doubted that the city is a real contender to land the New Orleans Saints.

Mayor Ed Garza said Tuesday's revelation that Saints owner Tom Benson is interested in relocating, possibly to San Antonio, was driven more by politics.

Garza said he was "wary" about the timing of the news given that the NFL has never endorsed San Antonio as a relocation city and that Benson, Hardberger and local auto magnate B.J. "Red" McCombs are close.

McCombs, owner of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings, is a key supporter of Hardberger's election campaign. And there is speculation that Benson's flirtation with San Antonio is a calculated effort to give him leverage for a longer lease at the team's current home, the Louisiana Superdome.

"It's hard to say if he (McCombs) is doing a favor for Benson or Hardberger," Garza said. "But it's a surprise to me that the NFL has changed its position (on San Antonio) this much, and it seems like it's not a coincidence that it's a few weeks from a runoff."

The runoff elections for mayor, a race between Hardberger and Juli

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From The New Orleans Times-Picayune story: San Antonio not in shape for Saints

Despite a recent report that Saints owner Tom Benson is interested in possibly relocating to San Antonio, which is his second home, the Alamo City is not actively pursuing an NFL franchise and has not seriously explored the idea since 2001.

San Antonio's leadership is in flux, with a mayoral runoff election scheduled for June 7.

Although Phil Hardberger and Julian Castro, the two candidates, said they would be interested in the prospect of bringing the Saints to town, current Mayor Ed Garza told the San Antonio Express-News that he doesn't think it is likely.

Garza, who did not return a call from The Times-Picayune seeking comment, said in the Express-News article that he believes the city's fiscal realities would make such a move extraordinarily difficult.

Garza also said he was told by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue in 2003 that the NFL's interest in San Antonio was moderate at best.

"It's a surprise to me that the NFL has changed its position (on San Antonio) this much, and it seems like it's not a coincidence that it's a few weeks from a runoff," said Garza, who agreed with Louisiana officials who suggested that San Antonio was floated as a bargaining chip in Benson's negotiations for a long-term lease agreement with Louisiana.

The idea surfaced when Benson's attorney and adviser, Stanley Rosenberg, who lives in San Antonio, told the Express-News that Benson has a strong interest in relocating the Saints, possibly to San Antonio.

On the surface, the idea makes sense. San Antonio has a growing population, a thriving economy, a successful pro sports franchise in the NBA's Spurs and a proven sports fan base, especially when nearby Austin is included.

In San Antonio, Benson started his automobile dealership empire and remains active in business and charitable endeavors. Benson owns several car dealerships and bank branches in San Antonio and a private ranch in nearby Johnson City.

Last year, the Saints flew to San Antonio to practice for three days during the hurricane evacuation. And in 2001, the Saints played a preseason game in the Alamodome against the Minnesota Vikings.

But unlike Los Angeles, which has been working with the NFL and making progress toward landing a franchise for most of this decade, San Antonio has barely explored the possibility since 2001.

The Alamodome was built in 1993, with hopes of luring an NFL franchise. In the early 1990s, San Antonio businessman Red McCombs made an unsuccessful run at an NFL expansion team. Later, McCombs purchased the Minnesota Vikings, which he is now in the process of selling.

Although San Antonio has fallen short in the past in the eyes of the NFL, the city does compare favorably to New Orleans in many important categories. San Antonio is the eighth largest city in the United States in population, but the total metropolitan area ranks only 30th, a more accurate number when it comes to fan base. San Antonio's total metropolitan area includes 1,592,383 people, according to the 2000 census. New Orleans ranks 35th at 1,337, 726.

San Antonio has four Fortune 500 companies, New Orleans one.

"The city has always felt and the business community has always felt that an NFL team would be a tremendous asset, just as we always felt the NBA was a tremendous asset," said Joe Krier, who since 1987 has been president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, which helped create the San Antonio Sports Foundation. "The Spurs have put this city on the map in more ways than I can count. We're a believer in pro sports, and we're a believer in pro football."

National sports marketing expert Marc Ganis said he believes San Antonio combined with Austin is the best market in the country without an NFL team, because it is "more certain" than Los Angeles.

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The talk of the NFL surfaced while SA was persuing a Major League Soccer team. A MLS team does seem more likely for the Alamodome, there has been talk of the Kansas City team relocating there. San Antonio Express-News article: Business supports dome upgrades

Business leaders are encouraging the City Council to today authorize issuing $2.9 million worth of bonds for Alamodome improvements, saying upgrades will help the city land a Major League Soccer team and reduce the building's $2 million operating deficit.

"If Major League Soccer brings in 20-plus games a year, it is a quick fix immediately," Lloyd Brink, chairman of the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday. "The (improvements) will make MLS a reality. Without them, it won't be a reality."

An intense behind-the-scenes campaign to gain support for his soccer plan and the dome improvements also netted Mayor Ed Garza endorsements from the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and John T. Montford, chairman of the board of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

San Antonio will have a shot at an MLS franchise in 2006 if local ownership is found and 5,000 season tickets are sold by Aug. 17. Garza and his supporters say the improvements will make the dome ready for soccer and help the city continue to attract major events such as college basketball's Final Four, college football games and international soccer matches.

"The question is how do we turn a sinking asset for the city into a revenue producer," Brink said, adding that the answer involves bringing an MLS team to a spruced-up dome and allowing the club to work with city staff to lure special events to the 12-year-old facility.

According to a proposed lease agreement, the city and soccer team would split profits from events they booked together. Assistant City Manager Roland Lozano said the arrangement could generate as much as $1 million toward closing the dome's operating deficit.

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I think it's a little bit of a long shot that San Antonio would land an NFL franchise, but not completely out of the question. There is a enough deep pocket support in SA that it is a possibility. Although SA is a smaller city for supporting an NFL franchise, nearby Austin should be enough population to support it.

I do believe the Saints are more likely to move than the Vikings are. I doubt you would see the Vikings relocate from Minn to SA.

Also, the NFL is willing to essentially create a franchise for Los Angeles, so there is no reason to feel that the need for a team in Los Angeles would necessarily impact any other potential relocations.

My thoughts anyway.

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From todays San Antonio Express-News article: Council OKs bonds to upgrade dome

With several members distancing themselves from Mayor Ed Garza's quest to bring Major League Soccer to town, the City Council agreed Thursday to issue $2.9 million in certificate of obligation bonds for Alamodome improvements.

. . . . . . . . . . .

The upgrades will make the dome ready for 20 MLS games in 2006, Garza and league officials say. The league has promised the city a team if local ownership is produced and 5,000 season tickets are sold by Aug. 17.

"This is a positive development for the Alamodome and San Antonio," MLS commissioner Don Garber said. "The improvements should help make the venue more attractive for future events, whether or not an MLS team becomes a primary tenant."

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  • 2 weeks later...

The Saints have sort of a love/hate legacy in New Orleans. No one wants to see them go, but everyone loves complaining about them. I was born in New Orleans, as was my dad, and he used to beotch about them all the time, but I don't think anyone could imagine a New Orleans without the Saints.

San Antonio is definitely not poised for an NFL team and never really has been. It still has that smaller city feel (Austin feels larger), and there are already two NFL teams within a four-hour drive.

The Spurs just got a big new arena as well, so I doubt the taxpayers would be willing to shell out even more for a new football stadium.

The MLS idea is definitely feasible, especially since Houston doesn't have one.

On the other hand, the San Antonio Saints makes a lot of sense as opposed to past moves (New Orleans Jazz to Utah Jazz, Minnesota Lakers to LA Lakers).

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  • 4 weeks later...

Just to finish off this story, it appears that San Antonio officals have giving up on landing a Major League Soccer team for 2006. They were required to sell 5,000 season tickets by mid-August, but gave up on the effort without saying how many season tickets they had sold so far. The MLS has said that SA is no longer in consideration and they will focus on other cities for expansion. They include Houston, Toronto, Seattle, St. Louis, Rochester, Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, & Philadelphia.

Story at: http://sanantonio.bizjournals.com/sananton.../20/story4.html

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This weeks San Antonio Business Journal has a story about a group being led by McHenry T. Tichenor (formerly the CEO of Hispanic Broadcasting Corp. which later merged with Univision) that is pushing for a team to be located in the Rio Grande Valley creating a "border team".

Valley supporters say a deep South Texas team would draw from a population base of more than 7.4 million people. A Gallup survey also found that 85 percent of the 1.2 million potential pigskin fans in Monterrey, Mexico, alone were willing to cross the border to support an NFL team in the Valley.

The NFL is holding a regular season game between San Francisco and Arizona in Mexico City this season. If a team were to be located in the Valley, plans call for the stadium to be built somewhere between South Padre Island and McAllen.

To me this seems even more unlikely than a team locating in San Antonio but, it is an interesting concept. Full article at: http://sanantonio.bizjournals.com/sananton.../04/story2.html

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  • 1 month later...

"Red" McCombs, the SA businessman who recently sold the Minnesota Vikings, spoke at a Rotary Club luncheon on Wednesday. This is what he had to say about SA getting an NFL team:

Not anytime soon, McCombs said.

"The NFL owners are comfortable with the (current) 32-team format. I don't see an expansion or a city that is willing to lose a team."

McCombs said that a few years ago, the "window was open (for San Antonio), but just for a couple of weeks. The city's leadership didn't understand what was needed. They wanted to talk it and massage it, and the window closed. In the future, San Antonio is going to have to be smart and lucky" to land a NFL franchise.


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In the fallout from Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Saints have contacted SA officials about possibly playing their home opening game at the Alamodome on September 18th.

A decision by the Saints is not expected until structural engineers can inspect the Superdome. But even then, a move to San Antonio is not automatic. Another venue that could accommodate the Saints is Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

San Antonio Express-News: Saints talk to city about using dome for opener

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An NFL spokesman listed San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Baton Rouge, La., and Tuscaloosa, Ala., as the sites under consideration to host the New Orleans Saints' Sept. 18 home opener and possibly the remainder of the beleaguered team's eight-game home schedule.
The Saints will fly to San Antonio after the game and check into downtown hotels, where they will be reunited with family.

According to sources, the league would prefer to play at LSU's Tiger Stadium because Baton Rouge, which is just 80 miles north of New Orleans, is closest to the Saints' fan base.

The Saints will be practicing next week in San Antonio, after this weeks preseason game in Oakland. The city is working on opening up enough dates for the Alamodome to accomodate them for the entire season if needed. One option could be for the Saints to play their Sept. 18 home opening game at the Alamodome, then play the rest of their regular season home games in another city.

San Antonio Express-News: League says San Antonioin mix for Saints games

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The Saints are working on a plan to play this seasons home games at the Alamodome, but the NFL is having doubts about San Antonios' ability to draw fans and corporate sponsors. The team owner was unhappy with the leagues decision to play the teams first home game in New York, and with thousands of evacuees stationed in Baton Rouge, the LSU stadium is looking like a less viable option. NFL sources say that they would prefer that the Saints play all road games this season, so the city is working to bring in corporate sponsors to guarantee that all the games would be sellouts.

Then there was this little tidbit about a possible permanent move to San Antonio.

A source close to Saints owner Tom Benson also confirmed Benson has a strong interest in relocating his team to San Antonio, a move that would give the Alamo City its second major professional sports team.

Despite assertions by team general manager Mickey Loomis that the Saints' commitment to New Orleans is "stronger than ever," sources say Benson will inform NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue in New York that the Alamodome is the most attractive option in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

San Antonio Express-News: Team eyes S.A., but NFL said to have doubts

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The Saints home schedule for this season is still up in the air. The NFL is considering playing up to four home games in San Antonio and three in Baton Rouge. However, it is expected that LSU would charge the Saints to play at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. The owner of the Saints says that a solution to the issue should be announced soon.

Then there was even more talk about a possible permanent relocation of the Saints to San Antonio.

With speculation growing that the Superdome will need extensive repairs -- and may even have to be razed -- the prospect that Benson may be planning a dramatic relocation of his team appears to be on the rise.

A source close to Benson said this week the Saints

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Another article about the Saints possibly playing in SA this season. This one about local officials again saying that the 65,000 seat Alamodome would draw capasity or near capasity crowds. The only real news from the article is that a spokesperson for the NFL said that Baton Rouge is there number one choice and that they would not play scheduled home games on the road against division opponents.

San Antonio Express-News: Cisneros, Haslett see S.A. option for Saints

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An agreement has almost been reached that would allow San Antonio to host half of the New Orleans Saints home games this season. The NFL has yet to approve the deal, but city officials feel there should be no difficulty in it passing. An annoucement on the agreement could come as early as today. The four Saints games expected to be played at the Alamodome are:

Oct. 2 - Buffalo Bills

Oct. 16 - Atlanta Falcons

Dec. 4 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dec. 24 - Detroit Lions

The remaining three games would be played in Baton Rouge which include:

Oct. 30 - Miami Dolphins

Nov. 6 - Chicago Bears

Dec. 18 - Carolina Panthers

The first home game on Sept. 19 has already been scheduled to be played in New York.

San Antonio Express-News: 4 San Antonio Saints games?

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The NFL has now made the New Orleans Saints home schedule official. San Antonio will host three games at the Alamodome, while Baton Rouge will host four at LSU's Tiger Stadium.

Saints 2005 home schedule:

Week 2 -- New York Giants (East Rutherford, New Jersey)

Week 4 -- Buffalo (San Antonio, Texas)

Week 6 -- Atlanta (San Antonio, Texas)

Week 8 -- Miami (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

Week 9 -- Chicago (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

Week 13 -- Tampa Bay (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

Week 15 -- Carolina (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

Week 16 -- Detroit (San Antonio, Texas)

NFL.com: Saints home schedule set

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City leaders want to use the oppertunity to showcase the city as a viable NFL market.

"One of the reasons the NFL has dragged its feet about San Antonio is they believe we don't have the resources to fill the house," Hardberger said.

But, Hardberger said, the city is the not the same as it was several years ago when the NFL conducted a study of San Antonio and winced.

"You can see that everywhere," he said. "We're growing. More businesses are coming in. There's a sense of vitality."

Hardberger said the first step in the quest for sellouts would be to energize the corporate base. He also suggested a push to bring Austin, Laredo, South Texas and even northern Mexico into the effort.

"It is incumbent for us to have a good showing," Cisneros said, "with 65,000 people in the dome. Then we will have enhanced our chances for whatever happens in the future, whether it be another owner moving a team or an expansion team."

San Antonio Express-News: 3 games seen as 3 chances to make S.A. an NFL contenter


Also, tickets for the Saints games will go on sale Wednesday morning at 10. Individual game tickets will range in price from $30 - $125.

San Antonio Express-News: Saints tickets to go on sale Wednesday morning

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Over 50,000 tickets were sold for the three Saints games in SA on Wednesday, the first day of ticket sales. None of the three games are sell-outs yet, but officials feel they will be when game time comes around.

Officials said the Saints' obligation to about 35,000 season-ticket holders in New Orleans complicated the issue of which seats to offer. Those season-ticket holders have until 10 days before the kickoff of each game to claim comparable seating in the Alamodome.

But a Saints official said the club will not put aside 35,000 Alamodome tickets for season-ticket holders. A source said the number of tickets will probably be significantly lower.

"We are off to a great start," said Saints marketing director Conrad "Connie" Kowal. "It was a very positive, overwhelming response."

San Antonio Express-News: S.A. Saints tickets are big, easy sell

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