Little Rock to settle for half a pig at War Memorial Stadium — a Hog game every other year | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Little Rock to settle for half a pig at War Memorial Stadium — a Hog game every other year

Posted By on Thu, May 17, 2018 at 7:15 AM

click to enlarge HOW DOES MISSOURI EVERY OTHER YEAR STRIKE YOU: A deal coming to keep the Hogs in Little Rock periodically. - STEPHEN MURPHREE
  • Stephen Murphree
  • HOW DOES MISSOURI EVERY OTHER YEAR STRIKE YOU: A deal coming to keep the Hogs in Little Rock periodically.
Various state and University of Arkansas officials will announce a deal to continue Razorback football games in War Memorial Stadium every other year, but some details are to be revealed on needed improvements to the stadium and attendance requirements that could end the every-other-year deal.

As it stands, the UA owes only one more game in War Memorial this fall. Former Athletic Director Jeff Long was clearly hankering to end games in Little Rock for the very good reason that they are far more lucrative at the bigger stadium in Fayetteville — not to mention even crusty old-school places like Alabama have ended off-campus "home games."

But Gov. Asa Hutchinson, having earlier annexed the stadium as a gubernatorial property, where it once had been an independent state entity, weighed in on keeping some games in Little Rock. Long's position on War Memorial — along with a losing football coach — ultimately contributed to his ouster by the Board of Trustees.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, quoting sources, says the deal to be revealed today calls for continuing an annual spring intrasquad game and to play the "home" game with Missouri every year in Little Rock. This means a real Hog game every other year. It's no return to the days when multiple Little Rock games were a staple of Hog football that helped build a statewide fan base, but it is better than nothing.

I've just returned from a long trip, but my own quick sounding of sources confirms the outline of the D-G reporting on the "compromise," with this added bit of information: The capital outlay to make WMS acceptable for UA use, particularly for SEC broadcasting, will be less than the amount — $17 million — previously estimated in a consultant's report. "Manageable," it is said.  What pot the governor draws this manageable sum from is yet to be revealed. Note for interested Little Rock residents: As yet, there's no plan on the table to attempt to tap city  residents for yet another sales tax levy to pay for business establishment desires that they are unwilling to support with their own philanthropic or other contributions.

ALSO: A reader notes the agreement allows the state to purchase 126 tickets for "redistribution" to officials and guest. This qualifies how as as "public use or purpose" of state money? Presumably, the FOI will at least allow identification of recipients of the free tickets.

Here's the press conference announcement:
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The University of Arkansas and the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism will be making a joint announcement on Thursday, May 17, 2018, at 10 a.m. at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Ark. The announcement will be held outdoors on the east side of War Memorial Stadium near Gate 1.

University of Arkansas Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz, Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Hunter Yurachek, Arkansas Director of Parks and Tourism Kane Webb and War Memorial Stadium Commission Chairman Kevin Crass will participate in the announcement and then be available for media interviews following the ceremony.

EDITORIAL: I say this with great sympathy for those who've worked long and hard to preserve WMS as a home for Hog games: Jeff Long was right. UA football should be played on campus, both for financial and practical reasons. A newbie opponent, Missouri, is better than Directional Louisiana University or the Toledo Mudhens as a draw, but in a down year, Little Rock-area residents have already demonstrated they won't blindly fill seats in Little Rock for the privilege of a rare Hog visit.  I think the compromise just postpones the inevitable day of a discussion of a more meaningful use of WMS — reconfigured for soccer, track and other community sports, perhaps. And, no, not for the money-losing sump of a college football team at UA Little Rock, another item that it is apparently on the governor's wish list without a source of financial support readily apparent.
click to enlarge DEAL MAKERS: Kevin Crass, Joseph Steinmetz, Hunter Yuracheck, Kane Webb. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • DEAL MAKERS: Kevin Crass, Joseph Steinmetz, Hunter Yuracheck, Kane Webb.
UPDATE: At the announcement, both UA Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz and Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek emphasized that the university is not a Northwest Arkansas but a statewide institution and that fans statewide share a passion for Razorback athletics.

Specifics: An agreement through 2024 that will provide for Missouri games every other year beginning in 2019 with a Red-White intrasquad game in intervening years. Yurachek promised at least six home games in Fayetteville every year.

Stadium Commission Chair Kevin Crass also spoke. He touted Arkansas's singular position as a place where the major university plays a home game off campus. Traditions should be "cherished and not tossed." But he said the stadium had helped the Hogs and vice versa.  He said the new agreement is about the future. A Thanksgiving week game with Missouri will create a new tradition, he said. He called for unity and urged fans to buy tickets to the Ole Miss game in October.

None of the officials discussed at the news conference the specifics of the agreement, but took questions after. Here's the full agreement, which talks about planned stadium work, including new artificial turf, new speakers and new Wi-Fi and ticket scanning capability.

Money: The state guarantees 47,000 tickets will be sold to Missouri games, with guaranteed revenue rising from $2.1 to $2.5 million over the six-year period. The stadium gets concessions, but not program sales. It is allowed to sell Coca-Cola products, though UA is otherwise a "Pepsi campus." UA controls parking and revenue from it and the state agrees apparently to get the city to cede control of the city golf course for tailgating. The UA will pay the stadium $75,000 for use for the spring games if the off-campus games are approved by the SEC.

No figure is provided on cost of stadium upgrades.

The governor pronounced it all good:

“This is great news for Razorback fans and War Memorial Stadium. War Memorial evokes a sense of nostalgia, and many families have great memories of the games they attended there. And for some fans, these games in Little Rock are their only opportunity to see the Hogs play in person, and maybe their only chance to attend a big-time SEC football game. This gives more people the opportunity to experience the excitement of the Razorback traditions. I commend Chancellor Steinmetz and Athletic Director Yurachek for working with the state for a plan that benefits everyone.”

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