Rep. Tony Gonzales files bill to keep Spurs in San Antonio

With the team playing two games in Austin this season and Austin billionaire Michael Dell buying a 10% stake in the team last year, U.S. Representative Tony Gonzales worries, even though the owners Spurs have sought to reassure fans and local officials that they have no plans to move.

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire – and there absolutely is smoke,” the San Antonio Republican said.

IN DEPTH : Spurs announce measures that reaffirm team’s commitment to San Antonio

“Look what happened to the Seattle SuperSonics,” Gonzales said of the current Oklahoma City Thunder; or the San Diego Chargers or the St. Louis Rams, both of which call Los Angeles home.

“No one would ever imagine Spurs leaving San Antonio, but what if they did?” said Gonzales. “Sometimes when we say it takes an act of Congress, sometimes we have to take it seriously.”

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So Gonzales is filing legislation to stop any possible movement on Interstate 35 for the Spurs, and to prevent other small market teams from abandoning the communities that have invested time, tears – and a lot of money – ​in them.

His bill, The Strengthening Public Undertakements for Retaining Sports Act – or SPURS Act for short – would establish strict requirements for teams to move. A franchise would have to lose money for five consecutive years, in addition to proving that its stadium is inadequate or that local governments are flouting its agreements with the team.

The legislation would require teams to give a year’s notice if they wish to move, and it would allow local governments to veto the move. It would also require moving teams to repay any financial assistance or incentives provided to them, such as special tax incentives or arena funding. Local governments could also sue teams for damages.

“These small market teams in particular are part of the identity of the community, and if corporate greed were to take that away, there has to be repercussions for that, or better yet, areas to deter them from doing so. “, said Gonzales.

Gonzales said he understands the potential free market arguments against his legislation. Sports teams are businesses looking to maximize their profits, and sometimes relocation helps the bottom line.

But he argued that cities are seriously committed to teams to keep them, offering generous tax breaks and other incentives. And teams are becoming important to local economies. Each year, the Spurs generate approximately $696 million for San Antonio, supporting nearly 2,000 jobs.

“When the federal government or local entities have subsidized a sports team, given hundreds of millions of dollars, there is a commitment there,” he said. “You can’t pull the rug out from under a community and expect everything to go well. I really try to anticipate what happens.

The legislation comes after Spurs managing partner Peter J. Holt wrote an open letter to fans in May seeking to allay months of suspicion that the team might be considering a move. Spurs are under a no-relocation agreement with Bexar County which runs until 2032, but county commissioners have agreed to a one-year pilot program allowing the team to play ‘home’ games in Austin and Mexico City.

The team said it was all part of an effort to expand the fanbase as attendance plummeted amid a record three-year playoff drought.

“We will continue to make memories, together, inside Bexar County,” Holt wrote.

Gonzales said he believed in Holt, but was worried about future owners. Dell buying a share of the team could be the first step toward building a property that’s more open to a move, he said.

Such a move would be devastating, Gonzales said. He knows well the connection that many in San Antonio feel with the Spurs. Gonzales said he grew up supporting the team. He was in Navy boot camp in 1999 when they won their first championship and he followed the race through the newspaper clippings his mother and grandmother sent him in the mail.

“Spurs are way beyond a car ride to Austin. It’s part of our city’s identity, and if you lose it, how will you ever get it back? ” he said. “We in Congress need to protect these small market teams.”

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