Photos by Eric Moreno, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.00
Freeman Coliseum 3201 E Houston St San Antonio, TX 78219
Year Opened: 1949
San Antonio Gunslingers – Freeman Coliseum
In sports, in pop culture, and in life in general, few things capture the imagination quite like the concept of nostalgia. In sports, you have throwback uniforms, old-timers’ games, and jersey retirement ceremonies to stoke the nostalgic flames of fans. This is one of the chief draws of the National Arena League’s (NAL) San Antonio Gunslingers.
Now in their inaugural season in the NAL, the Gunslingers harken back to the days when the first incarnation of the USFL called the Alamo City home. Those Gunslingers played for two seasons in the springs of 1984 and 1985 at historic Alamo Stadium. While beloved (they featured future college football Head Coach and current television analyst, Rick Neuheisel, as their starting quarterback and star player), the team was also were steeped in controversy. The 2022 version has visions of lasting longer with less of that controversy and more success.
Adding another dash of nostalgia is their home stadium, the legendary Joe and Harry Freeman Coliseum. Once upon a time, Freeman Coliseum was the largest indoor arena in San Antonio, and was the site of some of the biggest entertainment acts to visit the city, as well as home to two of the city’s now defunct minor league hockey franchises, the San Antonio Iguanas of the Central Hockey League and the San Antonio Dragons of the International Hockey League – these days the venue is mainly used for concerts and the annual San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.
With hopes riding as high as a gunfighter in the saddle, read on to see if the latest arena team to hit the Alamo City has enough beyond their trade in nostalgia to make it worth your while.
Food & Beverage 3
When it comes to the food and drink scene at the old Coliseum, the best word to describe it is going to be “adequate”. There are several what I would call “traditional” stands along the main concourse area, as well as several beer stands.
The main food stands have all your old favorites: hot dogs ($5), hamburgers ($7), Frito pie ($8), soft pretzels ($5), nachos ($7), and popcorn ($6). They also offer fountain sodas ($5 for regular and $6 for large), as well as domestic and premium canned beers ($9 and $10 each).
Nothing flashy, nothing fancy, but it will get the job done and won’t put too much of a strain on your wallet, which is always a plus.
It’s fair to call the venue middle-aged at this point, and I’ve been coming to events at Freeman Coliseum since I was a young child. Aside from some cosmetic upgrades, to me it looks fairly unchanged. This is both a positive and a negative. For me, and I would imagine with a number of other long-time residents of the area as well, there is a certain appeal to taking in events at the coliseum. Again, there is a nostalgia factor to the venue.
However, I’m not sure nostalgia has the same sort of draw to everyone else. The renovations done a few years ago added some nice cosmetic upgrades, including some murals and photos highlighting some of the history of the building. For first-time, new visitors, though, the draw might soon wear off once you get past the shiny concourse and into the playing area. Especially once you get into your seats; some folks might find them to be a little cramped.
Arena football is always a weird sport that’s shoehorned into whatever venue can hold it. In my opinion, the smaller the venue, the better for this sport. Freeman Coliseum looks cavernous during Gunslingers games and that isn’t helped by the acoustics. The team does its best by trying to offset it with their emcees and public address announcers, but that just makes the loudness that much more noticeable. Five hundred people yelling in a big cave is still 500 people yelling in big cave.
I’ve written numerous times about the area where Freeman Coliseum resides. It shares a parking lot with the home arena of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, AT&T Center. The Gunslingers schedule starts in the late spring and ends during the early summer, at the tail end of the NBA season, so there is a chance that if you time your visit to San Antonio just right, you could double-up your sports visits right in the same parking area.
The area of town that the arenas both reside, the far east side of the city, is still a bit lagging in terms of attractions, restaurants, and lodging for fans who want to stay close to the venues. However, the good news is that you are within a 10-15-minute drive of the city’s vibrant downtown. The Alamo, River Walk, Tower of the Americas, HemisFair Park, and the Historic Pearl, basically everything they show you on television about San Antonio, is downtown and is just a short drive away from Freeman Coliseum.
A relatively new restaurant that is adjacent to Freeman Coliseum is BallHoggs BBQ. Serving up everything that anyone looking for good Texas barbecue could, BallHoggs – the brisket is phenomenal – is a great option to try before or after Gunslingers games. Heck if you’re in Texas, you must eat barbecue at least once while you’re here!
In terms of lodging, there are a number of affordable motels along the highways that surround the arena. These include Econo Lodge Inn & Suites Downtown Northeast and Quality Inn I-10 East. Again, if you’re looking for something more upscale or high-end, San Antonio’s downtown (with all of its options) – including one of the best hotels in the United States, Hotel Emma – is just a short drive away.
There’s that cliché about Texas and it’s love of football, and I can tell you for a fact that by and large, it’s more truth than myth. The Gunslingers, for a first-year, lower-tier, niche sport, still draw a decent crowd to Freeman Coliseum. By decent I mean several thousand fans. As I mentioned, the coliseum is cavernous, so it will feel emptier than it really is, but the crowds are there. Why? Because it is football.
The team has also wisely signed a few players with local ties to give fans familiar names to root for. Again, there is the nostalgia factor for longtime residents, as well. Regardless, so far, so good. If they can sustain the fanbase they have and grow it, San Antonio has limitless potential for growth, and an unquenched desire for any type of pro football to latch onto.
Like it’s shinier younger brother and neighbor, AT&T Center, Freeman Coliseum is accessible by two major interstates, I-10 and I-35. As mentioned both are 15-minute drives from downtown San Antonio and from San Antonio International Airport, for those flying into the city for a Gunslingers game. Once you get on site, there is one entrance to Freeman Coliseum’s parking lot, and the parking is just $10 each game.
Return on Investment 4
Single-game tickets for the Gunslingers start at $20 per person, which is not bad. For the game I attended, one of the team’s main sponsors was actually giving away free tickets to fans, which is an even better bargain. With parking being at a low cost and concessions being reasonably priced, this is a great way to spend an afternoon enjoying some football out of the hot summer sun.
The Gunslingers are still finding their feet in their maiden season, but they already have a few pretty good traditions built in. The Six Shooters Cheerleaders perform in between quarters and at halftime. They also have reenactors dressed as Old West gunfighters patrolling the stands taking photos with fans, and they even have a reenactor who rides a horse that leads the team out of the tunnel during introductions. I’m a sucker for a live mascot, but it’s still a pretty cool site to see.
Arena football might not in all honesty be everyone’s cup of tea. However, if you enjoy football, the Gunslingers are doing what they can to make these games fun for fans of any interest level. I think if you take the time to take in a game and visit Freeman Coliseum, I think you’ll enjoy yourself. In no way would I put it on a bucket list of any kind; however, if you have time, and if you’re in San Antonio, come on down. Gunz up!