What’s next for Spurs home arena after AT&T pulls plug on naming-rights deal

UTSA lecturer Dr. Ricard Jensen believes Spurs are in line for better naming-rights deal in future

SAN ANTONIO – From multiple NBA championships to rodeos and concerts, the home of the San Antonio Spurs has hosted hundreds of major events over two decades under the name AT&T Center.

But that will soon change after telecommunications giant AT&T pulled the plug on its naming rights deal with the Bexar County building after owning those rights since 2002.

AT&T’s decision not to renew its deal, which expires in Fall 2022, was initially reported by Front Office Sports.

In a statement to KSAT-12, Fletcher Cook, AT&T Vice President of Corporate Communications, said “this sale is a result of the ongoing strategic review of our balance sheet and assets to identify opportunities for monetization. We want to ensure that our assets support our overall strategy and areas of market focus. Where this is not the case, we transition them to owners who will provide incremental stewardship and investment.”

”I realize there has been speculation on the naming rights and this sale is separate from AT&T’s team sponsorship and naming rights agreement,” the statement continued. “We continually review our sponsorship strategy, so I can’t comment on our future plans.”

AT&T also sold its minority stake in the franchise, which was about 7%. That percentage was bought in the deal to bring in Austin billionaire Michael Dell and global investment firm Sixth Street as minority investors in the Spurs.

While the move by AT&T was surprising to many, KSAT has learned the company had been on the sellers list for some time and intended to sell its stake when new investors were announced.

Dr. Ricard Jensen, lecturer at the UTSA College of Business, said AT&T’s decision is not a sign of bad things on the horizon for the Spurs.

“I don’t see anything which would tend to tell me that this losing of the naming rights seems to indicate the Spurs have any potential of moving,” said Jensen.

AT&T’s current naming-rights deal with Spurs is around $2.1 million annually. That figure is among the lowest in major professional sports.

By comparison, Toyota’s deal with the Houston Rockets, signed in 2003, is worth $4.75 million annually and the Dallas Mavericks deal with American Airlines, signed in 1999, is worth nearly $7 million annually.

Jensen believes the Spurs, now worth an estimated $1.85 billion, could get a much better deal in the long run.

“Part of this is driven by the idea that sports is the only thing in the world that gives you a huge live TV audience,” Jensen said. “If you’re the naming sponsor for an event or the naming sponsor for a stadium, that gives you so much more exposure than just saying we’re just one of several corporate sponsors.”

Now the search begins for a new naming rights sponsor. This also opens the door for a San Antonio-based company to build national brand awareness.

“H-E-B is expanding into places throughout Texas, not just here in San Antonio and Austin,” said Jensen. “USAA recently announced plans to build a big hub in Charlotte. Whataburger is opening up new franchises in other places.”

Jensen also says to not count out businesses like Airbnb, Uber, Lyft or non-traditional companies that are flush with cash right now. The Miami Heat recently signed a new arena naming rights deal with FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange, worth more than $7 million annually.

“Maybe businesses are weary, businesses are not spending on this kind of a thing,” said Jensen. “But on the other hand, think of how many businesses are highly profitable. Peleton had sales go through the roof, StubHub and other food companies.”

There is also an opportunity for Michael Dell to get into the naming-rights race, but a decision will be made in the future. The Spurs and AT&T will be under contract through next fall. Either way, it appears to be a win for the Spurs.

“I’m 100 percent confident the Spurs are going to get a new naming rights sponsor, and I’m about 95% confident the new sponsor is going to pay more,” said Jensen.

From familiar, big-name local companies to some off-the-wall and fun ideas, we’re letting you decide what the name of the arena should be next! Take our poll below. Don’t see the company you’d prefer? Let us know in the comments below.


About the Authors:

RJ Marquez has been at KSAT since 2010. He's covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area, and is the lead reporter for KSAT Explains. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms. You can see RJ regularly on KSAT Explains and Good Morning San Antonio. He also writes a weekly Spurs newsletter.