By Guillermo X. Garcia
With an eye fixed on an NBA lockout, Bexar County has asked the Spurs to re-evaluate when the organization expects to begin spending $75 million in bond money earmarked for capital improvements at the county-owned ATT Center.
If the team were to delay starting to spend the bond funds that voters approved in 2007, it essentially would be putting off having to spend $15 million — its portion of the nearly $90 million total dedicated for arena technology improvements and enhanced fan experience.
County officials say the Spurs could use that $15 million as a cushion against the financial shock certain to hit if part or all of next season were scuttled.
The team earlier had indicated it would begin drawing down on the $75 million over the next 12 to 15 months.
It’s not certain that the season is in danger, but a deadline is looming: If an agreement between owners and players is not reached by mid-September, training camp and exhibition games starting in early October would be in jeopardy.
David Marquez, the county’s director of economic development, said Tuesday that it would be unrealistic not to expect “significant negative effects” on the team’s business operation if some or all of the upcoming season is canceled because of the ongoing impasse.
He said the county is concerned about its “very good tenant” and is exploring ways it might assist the team get over the financial hurdle should some or all of the season be canceled.
Marquez said that after recent meetings with Spurs officials, he asked them to “determine if the plan they had drawn up five years ago on (how the Spurs would spend) the $75 million in bond money remains on the same track.”
A Spurs spokeswoman declined to comment on any aspect of the team’s ongoing talks with the county, citing a lockout-related gag order imposed by NBA Commissioner David Stern.
NBA team owners claim they have lost $300 million each of the past two seasons, and they want players to give back some of their salaries to offset expected future losses.
Players are skeptical of the losses claimed by owners.
The county is concerned about the financial impact a lockout would have on a small-market team like the Spurs — and how lost revenue might affect the county’s ability to make good on meeting its bond obligations.
TiqIQ, an aggregator of sports tickets, calculates the possible loss in the secondary market, which would include the Spurs, for NBA tickets would total $186.4 million if there is a full season lockout and $74.5 million for a 50-game season.
County officials have emphatically ruled out any scenario under which Bexar would forgo or forgive the Spurs’ arena rent: $1 million a year, paid in quarterly installments, for exclusive use 330 days a year.
The Spurs’ rental payment, along with the hotel bed and car rental taxes levied on visitors, is committed to paying off the $75 million bond issue.
“There is no give on that, and (Spurs officials) are aware of that, Marquez said. “Nonpayment (of the rent) is nonnegotiable, even if there were to be no season.”
But he acknowledged the county is looking at other options, even though he said the Spurs have not yet asked to be relieved of any financial obligations.
One of the options being explored is possibly deferring the $1 million a year the Spurs contribute to a repair and renovation fund, Marquez said.
“Why spend money to fix or renovate today, if you are planning to replace it shortly?”
That might help the Spurs get over some of the financial issues they’d be facing from a shortened or canceled season, he said.
The arena is the home court for the Spurs as well as the WNBA Silver Spurs and the Rampage hockey team, all owned by the Spurs’ parent company, Spurs Sports and Entertainment.
Express-News archives contributed to this report.
NBA lockout deadlines
If there is no deal on a collective bargaining agreement by these deadlines, here’s what may happen to the season:
Mid-September: The NBA may begin canceling training camp and the first week of exhibition games.
Early October: The remainder of the preseason likely would be scratched.
3rd week of October: The first regular-season games would begin to be canceled.
Christmas: Commissioner David Stern will set a “drop-dead date,” likely in mid-January, after which the entire season will be canceled if an agreement has not been reached.
Source: Express-News archives