In UA’s view, LR arena in need of $10M up­date

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - MATT JONES AND TOM MUR­PHY

FAYET­TEVILLE — Up to $10 mil­lion in im­prove­ments are needed for War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium to con­tinue host­ing Arkansas Ra­zor­backs foot­ball games, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments and emails ex­changed be­tween of­fi­cials of the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville and the Arkansas Depart­ment of Parks and Tourism.

The doc­u­ments, ob­tained through an open-records re­quest, de­tail sev­eral im­prove­ments UA of­fi­cials say are needed to bring the sta­dium in line with fan de­mands, meet needs of TV part­ners and sup­port po­ten­tial changes to South­east­ern Con­fer­ence reg­u­la­tions. There is no record of any of­fi­cial rec­om­men­da­tions per­tain­ing to sta­dium up­grades.

UA has played an­nu­ally at the sta­dium since it opened in 1948, but the Ra­zor­backs’ fu­ture there is in doubt af­ter a con­tract be­tween the par­ties ends in 2018.

UA Chan­cel­lor Joe Stein­metz and Ath­letic Di­rec­tor

Jeff Long made Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tions re­gard­ing games at War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium to in­di­vid­ual mem­bers of the UA board of trus­tees and Gov. Asa Hutchin­son in late Oc­to­ber, ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ments. By pre­sent­ing to in­di­vid­ual UA trus­tees, UA of­fi­cials avoided giv­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion in a pub­lic fo­rum, such as the reg­u­larly sched­uled UA board meet­ing last week in North Lit­tle Rock.

In their pre­sen­ta­tions, UA of­fi­cials dis­cussed the pros and cons of host­ing games at War Me­mo­rial. Among them are fi­nan­cial fac­tors such as a $1.5 mil­lion dif­fer­ence in the five-year av­er­age of ticket rev­enue be­tween games at Reynolds Ra­zor­back Sta­dium ($4.1 mil­lion) and War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium ($2.6 mil­lion).

UA of­fi­cials have de­ter­mined the av­er­age per-game net rev­enue at Ra­zor­back Sta­dium is $7.4 mil­lion, dou­ble that of War Me­mo­rial’s $3.7 mil­lion, and that the dif­fer­ence in net rev­enue for 2018 and be­yond is pro­jected to rise to $4.7 mil­lion per game.

Reynolds Ra­zor­back Sta­dium is un­der­go­ing a $160 mil­lion ex­pan­sion that will add about 4,200 club and suite seats by Au­gust 2018.

Hutchin­son said in a state­ment that he “ap­pre­ci­ated” meet­ing with Long and Stein­metz on the fu­ture of Ra­zor­back foot­ball at War Me­mo­rial.

“I ex­pressed that I thought it ben­e­fi­cial for the Ra­zor­back pro­gram to have games in Lit­tle Rock,” he said. “I un­der­stand the need to up­grade the fa­cil­i­ties, and that is a point of on­go­ing dis­cus­sions.”

Kane Webb, di­rec­tor of the Parks and Tourism Depart­ment, also at­tended the meet­ing with Long, Stein­metz and Hutchin­son. War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium was placed un­der the con­trol of the Parks and Tourism Depart­ment ear­lier this year, and the depart­ment has com­mis­sioned a sta­dium fea­si­bil­ity study with Frisco, Texas-based Con­ven­tions, Sports & Leisure that is ex­pected in mid-De­cem­ber.

“I think the suc­cess of the War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium is im­por­tant to cen­tral Arkansas and the state, and the Hogs have been a part of that, which is why we are in dis­cus­sions to con­tinue that tra­di­tion of a Ra­zor­back game” at the sta­dium, Webb said.

Ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments ob­tained through email ex­changes be­tween UA and the Parks and Tourism Depart­ment, the up­grades and ren­o­va­tions listed by UA as “im­me­di­ate” con­cerns at War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium would cost be­tween $1.4 mil­lion and $4 mil­lion and in­clude:

Im­proved WiFi and Dis­trib­uted An­tenna Sys­tem con­nec­tiv­ity at an es­ti­mated cost of $1.1 mil­lion to $3.25 mil­lion. Ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments, this is needed to im­prove cell­phone us­abil­ity through­out the sta­dium. It also would sup­port an ex­pected SEC rule change that would al­low ra­dio com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween quar­ter­backs and coaches, and the use of tablets on the side­line and in the locker room through fiber optics. The rule change is ex­pected as early as next sea­son, but more likely by 2019.

En­hance­ments to broad­cast TV in­fra­struc­ture at a cost of be­tween $250,000 and $500,000. This would ad­dress sky cam, light­ing and power con­cerns for TV con­duits ESPN, CBS and SEC Net­work.

An ex­panded locker room for game of­fi­cials at a cost of $50,000 to $250,000. A doc­u­ment states the ex­ist­ing locker room is “in­ad­e­quate” and space is needed for 11-12 of­fi­cials each game.

Ren­o­va­tions listed as “short-term” needs by UA are be­tween $1.5 mil­lion and $2.7 mil­lion and ad­dress con­nec­tiv­ity be­tween re­play of­fi­cials at the sta­dium and the SEC of­fice in Birm­ing­ham, Ala.; re­plac­ing the sta­dium’s ar­ti­fi­cial turf, clock and sound sys­tems; ren­o­vat­ing the sta­dium’s pub­lic re­strooms and con­ces­sion stands; and im­prov­ing event staff and park­ing man­age­ment.

In ad­di­tion, a work­ing group of SEC ath­letic di­rec­tors will re­view min­i­mum re­quire­ments for foot­ball fa­cil­i­ties, which could re­quire $1.95 mil­lion to $3.3 mil­lion in up­grades, such as ex­pand­ing the size of home and vis­it­ing locker rooms and team meet­ing spa­ces; pro­vid­ing se­cure ac­cess for teams to their locker rooms; ad­di­tional se­cu­rity cam­eras and the es­tab­lish­ment of a sta­dium com­mand cen­ter; and ded­i­cated postgame news con­fer­ence rooms for home and vis­it­ing teams, ac­cord­ing to UA.

Herb Vin­cent, an as­so­ciate com­mis­sioner at the SEC, said Tues­day that “the work­ing group is still be­ing de­vel­oped and there­fore there have been no meet­ings of this group to date.”

The 39-slide Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tion by Long and

Stein­metz ad­dressed other fac­tors in the de­bate be­tween home sta­di­ums, such as where ticket sales come from across the state at both venues, and a look at UA’s foot­ball tra­di­tion in the state.

The pre­sen­ta­tion noted the im­por­tance of the foot­ball team’s his­tory in Lit­tle Rock, the sta­dium’s cen­tral lo­ca­tion, and the “af­fir­ma­tion of UA com­mit­ment to serv­ing the en­tire state.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, the pre­sen­ta­tion pointed out that the “Ra­zor­backs are the tie that binds the state to­gether” and how play­ing games in Lit­tle Rock “re­news mem­o­ries of clas­sic Ra­zor­back mo­ments in War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium.”

It also pointed out that op­pos­ing teams use it for neg­a­tive re­cruit­ing to dis­suade can­di­dates from go­ing to UA.

That cat­e­gory notes that the Lit­tle Rock sta­dium “is char­ac­ter­ized as an an­ti­quated crum­bling fa­cil­ity by our com­peti­tors” that re­cruits “share they don’t like play­ing in a sta­dium pri­mar­ily used by high school foot­ball teams” and are told by com­pet­ing re­cruiters it is “the worst foot­ball venue in the SEC.”

Ac­cord­ing to UA, sev­eral re­gional and so­ci­etal changes have oc­curred since the last ma­jor anal­y­sis of play­ing games in Lit­tle Rock in 2000, in­clud­ing the con­struc­tion of In­ter­state 49 to Fayet­teville, the sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in the num­ber of ho­tel rooms in North­west Arkansas, the pro­lif­er­a­tion of games on TV and game day ex­pec­ta­tions of fans.

Long ad­dressed the need for mak­ing a de­ci­sion on games in Lit­tle Rock soon af­ter a talk to the North­west Arkansas Touch­down Club on Sept. 6.

“It doesn’t need to be made in a week or a month,” Long said. “It needs to be, hope­fully, in my opin­ion, made in the course of this sea­son so we can con­tinue to sched­ule our fu­ture games.”

Ac­cord­ing to a re­struc­tured con­tract agreed upon in Novem­ber 2013, UA must play an SEC op­po­nent at the sta­dium next year, but the Ra­zor­backs did not stip­u­late which op­po­nent they will play there when the 2018 sched­ule was re­leased in Septem­ber.

Dur­ing a Sept. 29 email ex­change, War Me­mo­rial Com­mis­sion Chair­man Kevin Crass wrote Long to ask whether Long had a time­line for mak­ing a de­ci­sion on the 2018 op­po­nent. Crass wrote

that the com­mis­sion had been in­formed of past op­po­nents at least 12 months in ad­vance of the next sea­son.

On the same day, Long wrote Crass that the univer­sity was still in the process of mak­ing a de­ci­sion. “I hope you can pro­vide us ad­di­tional time to make our de­ci­sion,” Long wrote.

Ac­cord­ing to ad­di­tional doc­u­ments pro­vided by the univer­sity, SEC rules re­quire a mu­tual agree­ment be­tween SEC teams par­tic­i­pat­ing at off-cam­pus sta­di­ums. UA has home SEC home games against Alabama, Louisiana State Univer­sity, the Univer­sity of Mis­sis­sippi and Van­der­bilt in 2018.

There has been an on­go­ing de­bate for nearly two decades about how many games UA should play in Lit­tle Rock as col­lege foot­ball teams fo­cus more on on-cam­pus games and mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar pay­out games at neu­tral sites, such as the Ra­zor­backs’ an­nual game against Texas A&M in Ar­ling­ton, Texas.

UA’s Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tion notes that UA’s is the only SEC pro­gram that plays home games at mul­ti­ple sites and that SEC West ri­vals Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mis­sis­sippi State ended their prac­tice of play­ing home games in large re­gional ci­ties such as Birm­ing­ham, Ala., and Jack­son, Miss., be­tween 1990 and 2003.

The Ra­zor­backs played as many as four games at the sta­dium in the 1990s but have grad­u­ally de­creased the num­ber of games played there since sign­ing a long-term agree­ment with the sta­dium in 2000. The Ra­zor­backs played two games — in­clud­ing one SEC game — at the sta­dium from 2003-13 but de­creased the an­nual to­tal to one game be­tween 2014 and 2018.

The Ra­zor­backs have not played an SEC op­po­nent at the sta­dium since a 45-32 loss to Georgia in 2014. UA’s last two games have been against Al­corn State and Florida A&M of the NCAA’s Foot­ball Cham­pi­onship Sub­di­vi­sion, a step down from the Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion in which the Ra­zor­backs are a mem­ber.

The seat­ing ca­pac­ity at War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium is 54,120, but an an­nounced at­ten­dance at­ten­dance had 36,055 on hand for the Ra­zor­backs’ sea­son-opener there against Florida A&M on Aug. 31.

In its Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tion, UA states the Florida A&M game pro­duced $1.3 mil­lion in ticket rev­enue and the 2016 game against Al­corn State pro­duced $1.6 mil­lion in ticket rev­enue. The av­er­age ticket rev­enue at Reynolds Ra­zor­back Sta­dium in 2016 was $4.6 mil­lion per game.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/STA­TON BREIDENTHAL

To con­tinue past 2018 as a site for Arkansas Ra­zor­backs games, ac­cord­ing to Univer­sity of Arkansas of­fi­cials’ doc­u­ments and emails, Lit­tle Rock’s War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium would re­quire “im­me­di­ate” up­grades and ren­o­va­tions.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/STA­TON BREIDENTHAL

The con­ces­sion stands and re­strooms at War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium in Lit­tle Rock are among the fa­cil­i­ties that re­quire ren­o­va­tion if the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs are to con­tinue play­ing games there af­ter 2018, ac­cord­ing to Univer­sity of Arkansas of­fi­cials.





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