Here we go again.
The Washington Wizards have two Arena Football League franchises- the Washington Wizards and the Baltimore Brigade. As the AFL continues to go after other NBA owners, this is important for the AFL fans in San Antonio, TX, who have been waiting and watching with baited breath for the return of their San Antonio Talons a popular team that folded after the league tried selling to several groups but ultimately failed. One of those groups? The San Antonio Spurs.
As the third anniversary of the Talons shutting down approaches this Friday, it’s hard not to look at the fact the Spurs have let so many opportunities get away, not to mention the struggles SS&E has had since.
In Dec. 2013, Talons wide receiver Robert Quiroga, along with Talons chief operating officer Keith Recine, head coach Lee Johnson, and others set up a meeting with Spurs Sports And Entertainment. Takeaways from that meeting indicated that the Spurs were sold on the idea of owning the team or any franchise in the Arena Football League.
So they spoke with then AFL commissioner Jerry Kurz for months about taking the franchise over. Many things were discussed, including the possibility of having the team play in Austin for a season due to renovations to the AT&T Center.
Then in Aug. 2014, the Spurs and the AFL went to the negotiating table to turn the franchise over to the Spurs. The Spurs were very much down with taking over the team, except there was one problem.
As stated above, the AT&T Center and the Freeman Coliseum, the two arenas that the Spurs own and operate, were set to undergo renovations in the summer of 2015- during the Arena Football League season. So the Spurs had to wait until the 2016 season to get a team.
For months, it looked like that was the case. Many sources confirmed that the Spurs had a franchise and that the team was going to be announced at the Spurs home opener on Oct. 30 against the Brooklyn Nets.
But three hours before tipoff, the league issued the most infamous press release in its 30 year history, stating that there would be no expansion in 2016. It later turned out that San Antonio had been approved by the league, but the board of directors wanted to go a year with no expansion to make sure things would go right.
Considering how the Las Vegas Outlaws were rushed into playing the 2015 season, it seemed like a smart move, even though the owners voted to have the Spurs team play in the 2016 season according to two sources. Were the people of San Antonio disappointed? Of course, but did that mean the Spurs were done with exploring the AFL? Not at all. Fans knew that there would be more opportunities and they would be on the lookout.
A month and a half after the Oct. 30 debacle, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, then the owners of the LA KISS, came to San Antonio to sing the national anthem before a Spurs 109-87 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. This was a great chance for the Spurs to talk to two guys who actually owned a team. According to team president Joe Windham, Gene and Paul never once brought up arena football.
In Jan. 2016, the Portland Thunder lost its ownership and was taken over by the league. I immediately jumped to the idea that the Spurs should take over the team and move it to San Antonio. All season long, I had said this would be the smartest move, considering all SS&E teams have been relocated prior to playing in San Antonio (except for San Antonio FC, which was an expansion franchise two years ago).
However, the team (renamed the Portland Steel for legal issues) quietly folded after no ownership group bought the team and apparently no attempt by the Spurs to step up and relocate it to San Antonio. It’s a shame because it looked to be an ideal Spurs franchise relocation scenario.
The Steel were last in the AFL in attendance. One of their home games was moved to LA, and the one owner who everyone looked at as the obvious target, Portland Trailblazers owner Paul Allen, “pretty much” decided that he wasn’t going to buy the Steel. San Antonio buying the Steel was even mentioned by someone who covers the Steel for a Pacific Northwest blog as a quiet (unlikely, but quiet) possibility.
Unfortunately, that didn’t come to fruition either because the Spurs would rather an expansion franchise or because the league wanted to keep it in Portland. Regardless, Portland is gone.
They weren’t the only team the Spurs could have snagged.
The Jacksonville Sharks had been one of the AFL’s model franchises since it entered in 2010, making the playoffs five times in six seasons. However in recent years, the team has had its fair share of problems. Their owner Jeffery Bouchy had made his standard for success hosting playoff games at Sea Best Field rather than winning the ArenaBowl in recent years.
That’s because Bouchy himself admitted in Aug. 2015 that the Sharks had only been profitable for just two seasons in franchise history. In fact, they hadn’t had a season in which they were profitable since winning ArenaBowl XXIV in 2011.
Sure, they have a great fan base, but at the end of the day if you’re struggling financially, you have to do what you have to do. So it felt like a great chance for the Spurs to swoop (the name of the Talons mascot, no pun intended) in and relocate the Sharks. Once again, they failed to take advantage. It wasn’t because the league stated that the team would stay in Jacksonville, but that the Sharks announced that 2017 ticket memberships were being sold.
A few months later, Bouchy announced that he would be moving the Sharks to the National Arena League.
Sometimes it wasn’t a matter of relocating a team, but maybe holding a game as a pilot episode. The Philadelphia Soul knew that because of the DNC being in the Wells Fargo Center last summer that there was no way they could host the playoffs in their normal venue. An idea was floated that the Spurs host the Soul’s first playoff game as a test game for the AT&T Center. Due of the Olympics, the WNBA’s San Antonio Stars would not be playing a home game and thus the venue would be available.
There was some speculation that the Washington Wizards, now owners of the Washington Valor, would do the same thing given the proximity to Philadelphia. Instead, the Soul announced that their first round game, as well as the conference championship, would be played at the PPL Center in Allentown, PA.
The same scenario played out with the LA KISS. Due to a circus being booked at the Honda Center, LA had to look at alternative venues. Why not the AT&T Center? After all, Lakers fans used to show up in large numbers when their team came to town to face the Spurs.
The same thing happened during the KISS’ only trip to San Antonio, in which many members of KISS Army invaded the Alamodome to watch LA’s 41-38 upset victory. But the decision was made to play in San Diego instead, where the KISS lost 56-52.
You can’t help but see the struggles SS&E has had since failing to initially purchase the Talons in 2014 and not think something is involved. The team SS&E moved over to the Freeman for the 2014 season.
The San Antonio Stars made the playoffs in 2014, while the Spurs negotiated for the Talons. Not only have the Stars not returned to the playoffs since, but attendance has been dismal since returning to the AT&T Center, averaging about 6,300 a game.
The future is bright though with Kelsey Plum leading the franchise. San Antonio FC, the soccer team SS&E started up recently, has been a disaster from day one. Although they made the playoffs this year, attendance has been inconsistent, with only two sellouts in their inaugural season. Interestingly enough, SAFCs attendance through two seasons at Toyota Field is actually worse than the Talons first two seasons at the Alamodome.
MLS has also never mentioned San Antonio for expansion in any way shape or form since the team arrived. It really shouldn’t be noted, but it’s worth mentioning that the Spurs won their fifth NBA title in June 2014, two months before the Spurs and the AFL began negotiations. The Spurs haven’t been back to the NBA Finals since. It’s also worth mentioning the day after the Talons shut down, the Spurs lost a preseason game to Alba Berlin.
There are three AFL teams with NBA ownership: The Cleveland Gladiators, the Washington Valor, and the Baltimore Brigade. The Spurs and Cavs had talks before about starting a team in the AFL. Did Wizards owner Ted Leonsis have any talks with the Spurs this past season? Did Spurs officials attend games in DC and Baltimore this year? These are all questions that fans here have, and have been wanting answered for some time now.
Questions like these are also starting to become annoying. Unfortunately, Spurs Sports & Entertainment will continue to hear them until they come out and acknowledge it. Like Principal Seymour said, “You can’t hide forever, I’m a very patient man. I once waited an hour and a half for a haircut!”