The team is expected to play in Austin, Mexico City and Alamodome


Before Jordan Mandelkorn became a Spurs manager, he was a Boston Celtics fan living in Vermont.

Having reached NBA age in the 1990s, Mandelkorn still has a specific and lasting memory of occasionally watching the Spurs on television from his home in New England.

“I remember Spurs playing in this incredibly big building,” said Mandelkorn, now the club’s chief marketing officer. “I remember the big curtain.”

When Spurs return to the Alamodome for the first time since 2002 – and for one night only – the “big curtain” will remain in storage.

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An opponent for the Jan. 13 game at the Dome, which will be held as part of Spurs’ season-long 50th anniversary celebration, is expected to be announced Wednesday along with the rest of the 2022-23 NBA schedule.

In a move that is both ambitious and bold, Spurs plan to use the full “Final Four” style setup for the Alamodome game.

The large blue curtain that spanned the arena during Spurs’ 394-game run from 1993 to 2002 – which gave the venue a more intimate feel but also halved capacity – may remain mothballed.

“We hope it’s going to be a big party,” said Mandelkorn, who was part of the internal brainstorming sessions that led to Spurs’ impending return to the Alamodome. “We want this to be a once-in-a-lifetime situation for people who don’t attend a lot of games.”

The Dome game is one of four non-traditional home games on Spurs’ schedule to be revealed on Wednesday.

In May, the Spurs received permission from Bexar County to play up to four home games away from the AT&T Center, including some held out of market.

These matches will take place on December 17 in Mexico City and April 6 and 8 at the new Moody Center in Austin. Opponents are TBA.

While the Alamodome adventure is meant to pay homage to Spurs’ past, the Mexico City and Austin games aim to better position the club for the future.

Aware of the difficulties Spurs face in one of the NBA’s smaller markets, general manager RC Buford said the club has a vital interest in expanding its regional footprint.

He hopes appearances in Mexico and Austin will help Spurs achieve this.

“We are in a unique position to tap into one of the fastest growing regions in North America,” Buford said.

Spurs’ banter south of the border is nothing new.

They have played six games in Mexico since 1994, including regular season games in Mexico City in 2017 and 2019.

The team estimates that there are 5 million Spurs fans living in Mexico, with half residing in Monterrey or Mexico City.

In March, Spurs announced a partnership with Mexican airline Viva Aerobus, which includes a plane bearing the team’s logo.

Spurs’ December visit to the Mexican capital represents another opportunity to cement themselves as a central Mexican team.

“It’s a chance to connect with the fans south of the border,” Buford said. “We’ve had this connection for a very long time.”

Meanwhile, Spurs’ April games in Austin signal an attempt to cultivate a similar relationship with the team’s northern neighbors.

The Spurs originally wanted to play at the Moody Center in February, when the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo forced them out of the AT&T Center.

After consulting with the University of Texas, the Spurs agreed to dates in April, after the Longhorns’ first season ended at their new building.

Spurs are hoping an increased presence in Austin – even in the form of a few late-season games – will help grow both their fanbase and their corporate bases.

San Antonio only has a pair of Fortune 500 companies, USAA and Valero. The Austin area, fueled in large part by the tech boom of the past decade, has four – Dell, Oracle, Tesla and Charles Schwab.

A lack of local corporate influence has complicated Spurs’ search for a new naming rights partner for their domestic arena, with AT&T’s deal ending after last season. The team has yet to announce a new sponsor.

If all goes according to plan, Buford hopes the Spurs can one day dominate the Austin-Mexico corridor the same way the Celtics own all of New England, Golden State owns the Bay Area and Northern California, and the Dallas Mavericks own the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

“There are examples of that in all sports,” Buford said. “It’s really nothing different.”

Spurs’ strategic plan to expand their commercial reach could also have implications for the product on the pitch.

The NBA economy is intensifying, with the price of retaining star players skyrocketing.

Warriors star Stephen Curry, for example, signed a so-called “super max” deal worth $215 million last season.

If Spurs are to eventually accumulate the kind of talent that competes for championships, they’re going to have to find creative ways to keep the war chest full when it comes time to pay to keep their next round of stars.

San Antonio alone ranks fifth in the NBA’s smallest media markets, ahead of Milwaukee, Oklahoma City, New Orleans and Memphis.

Forging a silver-and-black bond between Austin and Mexico could be vital to Spurs’ ability to compete with big-market teams, Buford said.

“We’re a lower third market,” Buford said. “By positioning ourselves better in this region, we have a chance to become a potentially powerful third market. I think it will help with business and in the field.

Austin billionaire Michael Dell joined the Spurs ownership group last summer after 13 initial investors sold shares in the club. When Spurs sought a new sponsor for their shirt patches this season, they found a willing partner in an Austin-based company called Self Financial.

Spurs’ warm relationship with Austin has many fans — and some San Antonio community leaders — wondering if the team might grease the skates to move away from the city that has been their home since 1973.

Managing partner Peter J. Holt, whose family has been part of Spurs ownership since 1993, has vehemently reinforced the club’s commitment to San Antonio.

“I want to reassure you that the Spurs are in San Antonio to stay,” Holt wrote as part of an open letter to fans in May.

Buford repeated it this week, citing the club’s $500 million training facility and multi-purpose complex that paved the way in northwest San Antonio as further proof of that commitment.

Bexar County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez said he was pleased with Spurs’ plan to honor their no-relocation agreement with the county, which runs through the end of the 2031-32 NBA season.

“All we can do at this point is take ownership at face value saying they’re expanding their market, expanding their fanbase and they’re committed to San Antonio,” Rodriguez said. “They’re doing this to stay competitive in a league where it’s getting harder and harder to stay competitive.”

With Spurs brass looking to the future, the team will also spend its upcoming 50th anniversary season commemorating its roots.

January’s return to the Alamodome should serve as the centerpiece of this celebration.

Spurs’ goals for the evening are not what one would call modest.

“The challenge for our fans and our community is to break the attendance record for an NBA game,” Buford said.

The league mark of 62,046 was set on March 17, 1998, when the Atlanta Hawks hosted Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls at the Georgia Dome.

Spurs’ high at their peak at the Alamodome was 39,554 fans for one game in the 1999 NBA Finals.

With the Dome due to be open to full capacity in January, without a blue curtain, the building has the potential to accommodate over 65,000 fans.

For a transplanted Spurs fan like Mandelkorn, the chance to see the team in full Dome glory feels like the chance of a lifetime.

“We want the celebration to be as big as possible,” Mandelkorn said.

Spurs swear it won’t be a going away party.

“The 50th anniversary allows fans from across the community and region to come together,” Buford said, “and at the same time look forward to the next 50 years.”

Twitter: @JMcDonald_SAEN


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