Harry King is a columnist for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, he has covered sports in Arkansas since the 1960s, including 35 years for the Associated Press. He is a voter for the Heisman Trophy, has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year seven times and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
King: UA, War Memorial meeting worth watching
War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock is shown in a 2014 file photo.
LITTLE ROCK — Unwittingly, the SEC commissioner expanded the agenda of an upcoming meeting between the University of Arkansas athletics director and War Memorial Stadium representatives when he refused to grant a waiver for the Razorbacks to play the upcoming Red-White Game in Little Rock.
Next month’s meeting was scheduled to address attendance and revenue at Missouri vs. Arkansas late last November falling below prescribed benchmarks, but it seems certain that repercussions from Sankey’s action will be mentioned.
After all, his “no” means the UA is only committed to four more War Memorial appearances in the current six-year contract, and the Red-White games in 2022 and 2024 are in jeopardy because they would also require a waiver from the SEC.
Nixing those games would reduce Little Rock obligations to Missouri in 2021 and 2023, increasing concern that War Memorial appearances will end when the contract expires.
That said, representatives of Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, and the War Memorial Stadium Commission scheduled to attend the meeting are well aware that the contract, signed in May 2018, gives the UA a legal out.
In fact, on the second page of the 16-page document, is a paragraph that includes: “In the event a waiver is not granted by the SEC for any or all Spring Football Games, the UA shall not be required under this Agreement to schedule or play any additional football games at the Stadium during the term.”
Supporters of the UA playing at War Memorial could argue that one reason Sankey decided there were no “extenuating circumstances” is because the UA request did not include any reference to the contract with the stadium. Who knows if including that info would affect the request for a waiver.
Responding to Sankey’s decision, UA athletics director Hunter Yurachek’s prepared statement said nothing about future games, only that his department “will continue to explore additional opportunities to enhance the numerous events already being held throughout the state to help bring the Razorbacks closer to our fans.”
For somebody who bought a concession worker’s credential and watched his first Razorback game sitting on the steps high on the east side of the stadium and then staffed UA games for decades, no Razorback football at War Memorial is a bit weird.
It is too bad that Arkansas travels to BYU for one of its four nonconference games in 2022. That game, combined with the obligation to play Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, leaves the Razorbacks with only six in-state games that year, including three nonconference contests — each with a hook:
—Sept. 3, Cincinnati: The Bearcats have won 11 each of the last two years under Luke Fickell, one of the reasons Fickell was mentioned prominently in the coaching search by several schools, including Arkansas.
—Sept. 17, Missouri State: The Bears are coached by Bobby Petrino, who went out of his way last September to tell the Little Rock Touchdown Club that he wanted to apologize to everybody for the way his Arkansas tenure ended.
—Nov. 3, Liberty: Liberty moved to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2018 and won a bowl game last year in the first season under former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze.
By the way, the aforementioned contract to play in Arlington is a bit of a wild card. The contract runs through 2024 — purposefully the same as the one between the UA and War Memorial — but some Texas A&M officials have indicated that they would like to buy out of the agreement and play all home games in College Station where capacity is 102,512.
That said, playing in Little Rock makes no sense when ticket revenue is the only consideration.
According to the UA, per-game revenue for Razorback games in Fayetteville was $7.4 million during a recent five-year period prior to the stadium expansion — double the average amount for Little Rock games during that same time.
For the Missouri-Arkansas games, the contract stipulates 47,000 tickets are to be sold each year at the 54,120-seat stadium and the announced figure for Missouri’s 24-14 victory in November was 33,961, the lowest for a Little Rock game since 1996.
Arkansas’ 2-9 record was a huge factor and the inferior product also affected what the university describes as “tickets distributed” at Fayetteville where capacity is 76,412:
—Aug. 31, Portland State, 61,055.
—Sept. 14, Colorado State, 55,583.
—Sept. 21, San Jose State, 56,058.
—Oct. 19, Auburn, 54,619.
—Nov. 2, Mississippi State, 52,256.
—Nov. 9, Western Kentucky, 42,985.
Enthusiasm for new coach Sam Pittman and his staff is likely to spike ticket sales in the short term, but a team being competitive every week is the only way to convince fans to ante up whether the game is in Fayetteville or Little Rock.
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