Life after the Hogs: What comes next for War Memorial?

By: Rex Nelson
Published: Wednesday, September 7, 2016
The word "Arkansas" is displayed in the north end zone at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Ark., Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
The word "Arkansas" is displayed in the north end zone at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Ark., Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

On Oct. 1, the University of Arkansas football team will play Alcorn State from Mississippi at Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium. From a fan standpoint, it's by far the least attractive contest on the Razorbacks' 12-game schedule. But Little Rock has to take what it can get these days. Alcorn is in a division below the Razorbacks, playing in the same conference as the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

The contract between the UA Athletic Department and the War Memorial Stadium Commission originally was scheduled to run through this season. In November 2013, the commission decided that rather than having two Razorback games in Little Rock each season from 2014-16, there would be one game per year through 2018. Under the amended contract with the university, either the 2017 or 2018 game must be against a Southeastern Conference opponent. Sensing that leadership on the Fayetteville campus was looking to get out of Little Rock entirely, the commission bought time with that 2013 amendment.

At the time of the 2013 announcement, Razorback defensive end Chris Smith said of Little Rock: "It's actually louder than Fayetteville. Even though the stadium is smaller, the fans are right on top of you. It's just crazy. I feel like the fans in Little Rock are more crazy, too, with all that tailgating. I'm going to miss playing there. I feel sorry for the people there."

Of course, the UA Board of Trustees could mandate that the Razorbacks continue playing one game a year in Little Rock beyond 2018. The board might decide that even though the athletic department makes less money in Little Rock, that fact is offset by the public-relations value.

If 2018 indeed marks the end of the line for Hog games in the capital city, what does that mean for 54,000-seat War Memorial Stadium? The easy thing for those in Little Rock to do would be to wring their hands and reminisce. However, a small group of civic leaders is beginning to make contingency plans to ensure the historic stadium's viability for decades to come.

War Memorial Stadium is part of a larger discussion about the need for facilities in Little Rock that attract youth soccer tournaments, basketball tournaments and similar events. Even when times are tough, people will go on the road, stay in hotels, eat out in restaurants and spend money at sports venues to watch their children and grandchildren compete. Gretchen Hall, the president of the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau, has been an advocate for a large indoor multi-sports facility. In 2015, the bureau commissioned a report by Crossroads Consulting Services of Tampa that made the case for such a facility.

While it's only a trial balloon at this point, the plan might be funded by a temporary half-cent city sales tax to transform War Memorial Park into one of the premier youth sports complexes in the region. In addition to the indoor facility, a reduced footprint for the golf course could result in soccer fields being added.

Where does War Memorial Stadium figure into all of this? Well, if the UA makes clear that Razorback games are a thing of the past, a track might be added around the football field, reducing the seating from the current 54,000 seats to something in the range of 35,000 to 40,000 seats. In addition to hosting high school games, the stadium still would be big enough to host University of Arkansas at Little Rock home games should UALR add football (something I believe will happen in the next decade) along with attracting events such as a minor bowl game or the new Sun Belt Conference championship game. Rather than just being a football venue, War Memorial Stadium also would be a soccer stadium and a site of track meets, making it busier than it has ever been in the past.

Granted, War Memorial Stadium is owned by the state, not the city, a fact many Razorback fans have never been able to grasp. State officials no doubt would be amenable to accepting money from the city to add the track and give the stadium new life.

Little Rock Catholic plays its home football games at the stadium. Increased marketing to the Little Rock School District and other high schools in Pulaski County could ensure that the stadium is used for high school games every Thursday and Friday night during the season. Along with four days of state championship games and the Monday-Tuesday doubleheaders traditionally held there during the first week of the season, that would give the stadium 26 nights of high school football each year.

Veterans' groups take seriously the fact that War Memorial Stadium is the largest veterans' memorial in the state. Members of these organizations could be expected to support anything that would ensure a bright future for the stadium, which opened in 1948 with an original seating capacity of 31,000 people. Even if the UA were to keep a game in Little Rock, the idea of turning War Memorial Park into a sports complex could go forward with everything except the track inside War Memorial Stadium.

Earlier this year, Little Rock voters approved a two-cent increase in the city's hotel tax to fund a $37 million bond issue, most of which will go for improvements to the Arkansas Arts Center. With the Arts Center staying put in Little Rock, attention has now turned to finding ways to capitalize on the burgeoning youth sports market. That effort might have the added benefit of giving new life to the iconic structure known as War Memorial Stadium.


Freelance columnist Rex Nelson is the director of corporate community relations for Simmons First National Corp. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at

Editorial on 09/07/2016


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