Jun 27, 2023 - Sports

Forecasting Victor Wembanyama's legacy on the Spurs, San Antonio

Victor Wembanyama stands beside Brian Wright holding a Spurs jersey.

Victor Wembanyama with Spurs general manager Brian Wright. Photo: Madalyn Mendoza/Axios

Basketball wunderkind Victor Wembanyama officially has his spot on the Spurs roster, a No. 1 jersey and the attention of fans in San Antonio and beyond.

Why it matters: The basketball buzz surrounding Wembanyama, or Wemby, is expected to boost San Antonio's presence on an international scale.

State of play: Seemingly overnight, San Antonio has gone from being largely overlooked by national sports desks to being a media darling.

  • International media joined the gaggle of reporters at major Wemby events in San Antonio since he arrived Friday.

What they're saying: Ricard Jensen, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio with expertise in sports marketing, thinks more national broadcasts of games will inevitably give the city a chance to tell its story and share its culture.

  • "The national broadcasts really shied away from the Spurs last year — it was like we really didn't exist — and now all of a sudden we're prime time entertainment," he says.

Zoom in: Throughout draft coverage, national audiences were exposed to how passionate San Antonians are about local culture when Wemby's request for breakfast tacos was expeditiously granted after his plane landed, and when ESPN's Marty Smith got Wemby's face etched into his haircut — a puro tradition.

  • Both events made national headlines.

By the numbers: Spurs Sports and Entertainment's Lucy Kaneb tells Axios that about 4,000 new season ticket deposits have been made since the May 16 lottery, when the Spurs won the first draft pick. The AT&T Center recently sold out of suite leases.

  • In the first 48 hours of drafting Wembanyama, the Spurs saw a 3,000% increase in year-over-year online traffic and sales.
  • Visit San Antonio, the city's tourism agency, saw a 26% increase in audience growth on its social media channels since the Spurs won the NBA lottery, according to Ja'Nise Solitaire.

The intrigue: Jensen uses the terms "basking in reflected glory" (BIRG) and "cutting off reflected failure" (CORF) to describe the shift in behavior that Spurs fans may be experiencing.

  • "CORFing" is what might've happened following the 2014 championship, through the retirement of the Big Three (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginóbili), the Kawhi Leonard controversy and last season's 22-60 record. Fans shied away from talking about the season or weren't as enthusiastic about attending games.
  • "BIRGing" is when fans align their success with that of the winning team's. "The psychological effect on the city is that we're going to be more proud of being San Antonians if Victor wins the Spurs back to where we think we should be," Jensen says.

The big picture: It's been 26 years since the Spurs drafted the top pick. The city's growth as a destination for work and travel has grown exponentially since then. Jensen believes that the "legacy" of drafting Wembanyama during such an auspicious time for the city will open San Antonio up for more major sports opportunities.

What's next: Visit San Antonio's CEO Marc Anderson tells Axios that having the 19-year-old sports star as a resident will tell the city's story from a fresh, young perspective.

  • "Our mission here is to bring the world to San Antonio. These kinds of stories are only going to help us continue telling the stories of San Antonio domestically and globally," Anderson says.
  • Visit San Antonio is planning to partner with Wembanyama in the coming months to share his experience of living here.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios San Antonio.

More San Antonio stories