Monday, October 29, 2012

Is the Razorback tradition over in Little Rock?

Posted By on Mon, Oct 29, 2012 at 10:24 AM

IS THE THRILL GONE? From Hog games at War Memorial Stadium?
  • Brian Chilson
  • IS THE THRILL GONE? From Hog games at War Memorial Stadium?

Robert Shields, who writes a weekly column on Razorback sports, writes today about the Hog loss to Ole Miss and what it means about Razorback football in Little Rock.

Is he onto something in seeing it as the beginning of the end (when the contract expires in 2016) of Razorback football in Little Rock? Is War Memorial magic over? Did the tailgate party eclipse the football? When you consider that the Little Rock Hog season has dropped from four games to two and no longer includes LSU, would the loss be that great?

A restaurant owner told me during the Louisiana-Monroe game tailgate that a Razorback weekend was no longer the business boost it once was. Better highways and changing game times mean many drive in and drive out the same day, he said. A Razorback Saturday is about the same for him as any other, he said.

Nothing like a winner, of course, to alter the dynamics of all things pertaining to college sports. But Fayetteville still has 17,000 more seats — easier to fill when winning than losing, naturally.

Shields' column follows.

The Razorback Football Tradition in Little Rock is Over

Robert Shields

What little hope remained for this Razorback football season took its last breath on a game-ending field goal that went through the uprights for Ole Miss. The Razorbacks were snake bitten all day, and the play in the end that made the difference was a touchdown called back by a penalty. The Razorbacks were in an illegal formation that negated a great play call to a wide-open Austin Tate.

A decade ago, Carlos Hall blocked a field goal against a top 10 South Carolina team in Little Rock for yet another magical win. I am afraid those days are long gone. For the first time since 1992 and the Jack Crowe era, the Razorbacks will lose every game in Little Rock. The magic is over. Thanks, Jeff Long.

It was a good ride.

The die was cast on February 11, 2000, that this day would come. When visiting Little Rock a couple of weeks back, Long was asked about the contract with War Memorial Stadium. He joked that luckily he did not have to worry about that as the contract ran through 2016. But you know he has an idea of what he wants to happen. He just can’t share it now because it’s premature.

For those who are younger, the Razorbacks actually used to play four games a year in Little Rock. Then it was reduced to three. Then in February 2000, the contract was revised to three games a year just four times over a 15-year contract. Then Long, with acceptance from others, reduced the games to just two a year with the contract being extended two years. In the process, he also out-priced Little Rock tickets above Fayetteville tickets. Then came the recent coup de gras of moving the LSU game out of Little Rock, breaking what had become a great tradition.

The Razorback tradition in Little Rock is over.

The end has occurred gradually over time just like the degradation in games, and maybe so has the diehard fan support. The last-second field goal by Ole Miss did not lead to the slashing of wrists or the total upset of the fans. It played out more like just the end of a bad movie and people were ready to move on to do other things.

The reality is that there were some empty seats at the game. It took a big marketing effort by the UofA to even sell out the 54,000 seats for an SEC game.

Over the years, if one was paying attention or not, tailgating in Little Rock has gotten huge. As games got fewer and fewer, the party became bigger and bigger. At some point, and I can’t point to the exact game, the party on the golf course got more important than the game on the field.

For some LSU games on Thanksgiving weekend, the crowd estimate on the golf course was 80,000 and that is more than the crowd that attends games in the stadium at Fayetteville. Many stay on the golf course when it’s game time. For the Ole Miss game, you could have gotten a ticket for free.

So is it time to move the games to Fayetteville and out of Little Rock?

In the past, events occurring in Central Arkansas on the same Saturday as a Little Rock Razorback game would have been rescheduled to not conflict. It’s so not the case any longer. A wide range of big events on Saturday went off as planned and participation was mostly not impacted.

What happens if all games are removed from Central Arkansas?

My honest opinion is that I’m not sure on the surface anything happens. I think it has already happened.

I think Central Arkansas has already moved on.

This isn’t just a hypothesis of mine. When the Democrat-Gazette ranks events for the coming weekend and the Razorback football game comes in at No. 7 just ahead of the Beanfest Outhouse Races at No 10, that is a sign Central Arkansas is moving on. I admit that I was slow coming to that conclusion. It’s hard when you’re that close to it.

I hate it. The northwest Arkansas metro area has around 400,000 people needing to consistently fill the 72,000-seat stadium. There will be fans from around the state who will also make the trip, and I hope they do because the program needs them, but it is becoming less of a regular occurrence. Losses impact that trend.

When you can’t sell out Little Rock until the end with a great marketing effort going for months, there are problems, and how does that translate into trying to sell to that same group an eight-game home package all the way in Fayetteville?

In time, how does that affect recruiting? Does the next Darren McFadden or Peyton Hillis coming out of Central Arkansas 20 years from now go to Fayetteville? I don’t know. Nobody does.

Can the clock be run back to February 11, 2000, and fix this problem? No.

Bringing games back won’t turn the clock back. It’s done.

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