LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The University of Arkansas said Tuesday it would pay War Memorial Stadium $400,000 in each of the next three years so its football team won’t have to make multiple trips to Little Rock each season.
The school and stadium commissioners announced a contract extension through 2018, but the Razorbacks will play only one game in Little Rock per year. Athletic Director Jeff Long said the school wants to be flexible as Southeastern Conference members consider expanding the league schedule from eight to nine games.
“The (new) agreement will allow us that flexibility,” Long said.
The team currently plays two home games a year in Little Rock, rather than at its on-campus stadium in Fayetteville. But at one point, the team played three or four games a year at War Memorial Stadium, which is a 3-hour drive from the university.
Attendance at the Little Rock games fell sharply this season, as the Razorbacks have put a poor product on the field since an 11-2 finish in 2011. Only 45,198 attended last Saturday’s game against Mississippi State, the team’s eighth loss in a row.
“Anytime we don’t have fan attendance, that’s problematic,” Long said.
Long also said the prospect of having a long time between on-campus games would put pressure on school and community groups and limit the selection of dates for homecoming and other festivities.
Attendance is off, too, at the team’s on-campus stadium. Only a game against highly ranked Texas A&M drew more than 70,000 people this year. Capacity is 72,000.
At the start of the season, new football coach Bret Bielema remarked that playing games at Little Rock was akin to a road game because of the travel involved. The remark reopened a debate from 2000 that ended with Arkansas shifting most of its games from Little Rock to Fayetteville.
Next Oct. 18, Arkansas will take on Georgia at War Memorial Stadium in the only Little Rock game. Stadium Commission Chairman Kevin Crass said he expects the stadium to be packed, considering the Bulldogs haven’t played in central Arkansas before.
Long said War Memorial Stadium, which seats 54,000 people, should be full regardless of the opponent. He would not commit to having only SEC opponents play in Little Rock in future years.
The $1.2 million that Arkansas will pay the War Memorial Stadium Commission over the next three years will help offset the money the stadium will lose without the second game and also pay down debt from a recent renovation.
Arkansas won’t, however, pay a rental fee for the 2017 and 2018 games; it has been paying $75,000 per game. Long said Arkansas would pick up between $900,000 and $1 million in revenue by adding a game in Fayetteville.
Crass said the agreement is a good one because it extended the university’s commitment by two years to 2018, enabling the stadium to lock in advertising and other contracts.
The commission will have to find new revenue sources once the university’s payments stop after 2016, Crass said, noting, “We’ll have some work to do.”
Just two years ago, the university and the stadium reached a two-game-per-year deal through 2016 — revising a contract that had called on the school to play three games in Little Rock in two seasons between 2012 and 2017.