This is an excerpt of a column I wrote for Sporting Life Arkansas. You can read it in it's entirety here.
To this day, I love going to games at War Memorial. I’ve never not had a great time. The tailgating on the golf course is superior to many SEC venues. I have just as much fun in the stadium during the game as any other place, even much larger stadiums. If the world was all about me, plenty of games would be played there and everyone would love it.
But it’s time for the Razorbacks to break up with War Memorial.
The Razorbacks didn’t perform as well against Samford as they did against Louisiana, but instead of dominating the discussion with talk of play calling or the passing game or the offensive line or the defense, way too much angry vitriol was directed toward Little Rock – the fans, the stadium, everything as if it was somehow Little Rock’s fault. It’s unhealthy. It’s unnecessary. And the only way it will ever get better is for the games to move to Fayetteville.
Not that that’s the only reason to move them. Fans already know the reasons. The Razorbacks make more money from games in Fayetteville from extra ticket sales, suites, concessions, merchandise, not having to pay rent, etc. They can host recruits on official visits. It’s on campus and can accommodate more students. The larger stadium comes across better on television (except for shots of the north end zone). I-540 and XNA make it much easier to get to Fayetteville than it used to be, and now that every game is on TV, playing games in central Arkansas isn’t as necessary to expose the program to fans throughout the state as it once was.
All of those reasons are valid and strong enough to win the debate on their own. And no, I don’t include the travel aspect in that list. If travel was such a detriment, there wouldn’t be a contract to play a conference game in the JerryDome forever and ever. Road games are really challenging because there are 100,000 Alabama, LSU, or Florida fans screaming at you while you’re on the field. Not as much because the team flew in a plane or rode a bus to get there.
There’s never been a need to stain the debate with hateful rhetoric (which, to be fair, has come from both sides). Little Rock is "too dangerous," even if the team goal each year is to get to a city like Atlanta, New Orleans, or Miami. Fayetteville is the "wine and cheese" crowd even though there are far more students there, and it’s not like there aren’t plenty of corporate or political attendees at War Memorial. Little Rock fans are "too drunk," as if games in Fayetteville and the rest of the SEC are sober, gentlemanly affairs. I’ve also never been in line with dismissing War Memorial as a "dump." No, it’s not as nice as Razorback Stadium and it’s clearly significantly smaller, but I’ve always been the type of fan that ultimately wants a good view of the game and feels like the crowd can make a genuine impact. Amenities behind and under the stands have never been important to me (although I can support the need for improved restrooms and iced drinks in the concession stands).
It’s a Barnhill-type of rowdy atmosphere that War Memorial is often known for, but in my experience, at least in recent years, if it’s not a big game, there’s nothing particularly special about the atmosphere (this is basically true for most every team in the country) and there won’t be any more truly big games played there anyway. The 2010 game against LSU was a magical night but the games against the Mississippi schools don’t generate the same level of energy. In fact, I’d argue the crowd participation levels between Fayetteville and Little Rock have grown to become pretty similar.
But War Memorial is still much smaller, and if the Hogs can’t sell it out against any opponent, it’s pretty difficult to justify the need to continue playing there. Ultimately, it should be the goal of the Razorbacks to play in front of as many fans as possible, and even if they don’t sell out in Fayetteville (which Samford would not, and ticket sales in Fayetteville are a topic for another day), they’d still play in front of about 20,000 more people.
I’ve formerly been of the opinion that Arkansas should keep one non-conference game there, but without the promise of an SEC game as part of the season ticket package, it’s worth wondering how many fans would buy tickets just for one game against a Samford-type of opponent. And if Arkansas can’t crack 50,000 fans with Mississippi State attached to the package, why would they ever sell more without them? It appears to me the only way Arkansas could sell out a non-conference game at War Memorial is if they played the season opener there (but Fayetteville needs the season opener attraction to draw more fans to Fayetteville), or played (debating whether or not I should even bring this up) Arkansas State.
For further explanation, check out the column in its entirety on Sporting Life Arkansas.
Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Fight and a contributor to Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @doc_harper.