FAYETTEVILLE -- In the 18 months since the University of Arkansas agreed to keep a football presence in Little Rock through 2024, War Memorial Stadium officials have been busy upgrading the stadium to meet requirements outlined in the contract between the two sides.
Today, War Memorial will host the Razorbacks for the 72nd consecutive season when Arkansas plays Missouri at 1:30 p.m. The stadium has completed more than $2.1 million in renovations since the Razorbacks played there last season, according to the War Memorial Stadium Commission's update Oct. 28 on facility upgrades.
The upgrades include new field turf, enhanced WiFi connectivity, new speakers and renovations to the locker rooms for the visiting team and game officials -- all listed as Phase I renovations required prior to this year's Razorbacks game. The upgrades were paid for through a $2.5 million grant from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council and $340,000 in governor's discretionary funds, according to the War Memorial Stadium Commission.
War Memorial Stadium Manager Justin Dorsey said officials are already on to Phase II of renovations outlined in the contract with the UA, including the installation of security cameras and an incident command center inside the stadium.
The stadium also is in the early stages of designing a 3,221-square foot home locker room that would cost between $700,000 and $950,000, based on estimates and plans outlined in the October update. Renovating the home locker room is part of the Phase II renovations detailed in the contract with the UA.
Other stadium enhancements this year include the addition of 25 new metal detectors that brings the total number to 65. When Arkansas played Ole Miss last season in Little Rock, fans were backed up several deep at the stadium entrances during the first quarter due to a combination of metal detectors and complications with the mobile ticket scanners.
Dorsey said the WiFi upgrade, which included extending an existing fiber optic network throughout the stadium concourse, should alleviate the issues with the ticket scanners.
"One of the issues we had last year was just the rain," Dorsey said. "Everything is going to slow down in inclement weather. We're hoping to not have some of those issues this year."
There is a 40 percent chance of rain today in Little Rock, according to the National Weather Service forecast.
This year's game is the first of three contracted games by the UA at War Memorial Stadium. All three contests will be against Missouri when Arkansas is the home team during odd-numbered years through 2023.
The contract also calls for the Razorbacks to play their annual spring game in Little Rock in 2020, 2022 and 2024, pending approval of a waiver request by the SEC that would allow Arkansas to play its spring game off campus.
Arkansas received such a waiver to play the 2018 spring game in Little Rock while its on-campus home, Reynolds Razorback Stadium, was undergoing a renovation that made parts of the stadium unusable. Kevin Trainor, UA senior associate athletics director and department spokesman, said Wednesday that the Razorbacks have yet to formally request a waiver for the 2020 spring game.
The UA will pay up to $75,000 to cover operating costs at the stadium for the spring games but will not pay for regular-season games played there, according to the contract.
Other key points in the contract include benchmarks for tickets sold and ticket revenue for the games against Missouri. The contract states that a minimum of 47,000 tickets should be sold to each game and that ticket revenue should increase from a minimum of $2.1 million for this week's game to a minimum of $2.5 million for the 2023 game against Missouri.
Failing to hit those benchmarks would initiate a 60-day review to identify reasons why they weren't met and to come up with best practices for ticket sales in future years.
There were 51,081 tickets sold to last season's game between Arkansas and Ole Miss, totaling $2,180,675 in ticket revenue, according to figures provided by the UA.
Trainor said Wednesday that approximately 32,800 tickets had been sold for today's game. At an average ticket cost of $45 -- the median price for tickets on the UA website -- that tickets-sold total would fall well short of the revenue benchmark this year.
"Clearly, that number as it stands today would not reflect any walk-up sales, including University of Arkansas student walk-up for the game," Trainor wrote in an email.
The low demand for tickets is likely due to the struggles of the two teams this season. Arkansas is 2-9 overall and has lost 18 consecutive SEC games, while Missouri (5-6, 2-5 SEC) enters on a five-game losing streak. The Razorbacks are playing with an interim head coach, and the Tigers learned earlier this week that a bowl ban for 2019 was upheld by the NCAA even if they beat Arkansas for their sixth victory.
UA and stadium officials were hopeful a move back to playing on Thanksgiving weekend would spark interest in the game at War Memorial Stadium. Arkansas hasn't played in Little Rock on Thanksgiving weekend since 2010.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, Arkansas' Black Friday game against LSU was often a hot-ticket event at War Memorial Stadium.
The day-after-Thanksgiving crowds have been less impressive in Fayetteville for games against LSU in 2012 and Missouri in 2015 and 2017. Playing in Little Rock on the holiday weekend requires the UA to sell around 22,000 fewer tickets than in Fayetteville and rely less heavily on student turnout to fill seats.
Stadium officials are hopeful some game-day additions will help boost interest. A pregame fan fest that will include food trucks and live music will be set up on the north side of the stadium, and alcohol will be served inside War Memorial at a Razorbacks game for the first time.
SEC leaders amended their policy on alcohol sales earlier this year to allow them inside stadiums. Because Arkansas is the home team, SEC rules apply for the Razorbacks' games at War Memorial Stadium, and cash-only $5 beer purchases will be available until the end of the third quarter.
Sports on 11/29/2019
Print Headline: War Memorial changes proceeding