NWA Population Growth and its effects on Razorback Athletics

We all realize NWA is growing, but I’m not sure many realize just how quickly.

The current population estimate for the NWA metro area is ~525,000 (up from ~405,000 in 2005).

Recently, Walmart CEO Doug McMillan stated “the region is on pace to grow to more than 1 million residents over the next 15 years.” <LINK_TEXT text=“http://talkbusiness.net/2016/08/arkansa … ate-reach/”>http://talkbusiness.net/2016/08/arkansas-childrens-ceo-says-nw-arkansas-poised-for-more-growth-shares-plans-for-additional-state-reach/</LINK_TEXT>

(FWIW, this means it is likely that NWA will be the largest Metro in the state by the year 2035 or possibly sooner.)

Even if that’s an aggressive projection, the Urban Institute recently released projections of NWA population growth at various levels through 2030. It found that if NWA’s death rates, birth rates, and migration rates are just average, our population will increase to over 800,000 by 2030. If those rates are below average the projection is 707,000. But, if the growth continues to snowball as it has the previous 20 years here, above average growth will lead to a population of ~950,000 by 2030.
You can play with the model here: http://apps.urban.org/features/mapping- … tures/#map

This will have great effects on the University and its athletic programs.

All of the teams should benefit from a vastly larger local talent pool. More blue-chip recruits will be produced on a regular basis because the area will essentially be twice as big. Furthermore, the more growth the area has, the easier it will be to combat old Arkansas stereotypes (i.e. it’s all rural hills; no one wants to live there; it lacks amenities; etc.).

It is concerning, however, regarding the stadium expansion. Maybe we don’t need 85,000 or 90,000 seats right now, but we will much sooner than most expect. I don’t see where you go after the upcoming expansion. Perhaps an upper deck could be added one day on top of the new North End Zone project.

But no matter how you look at it, it is hard for me to see any way the doubling of NWA’s population over the next 15 years will do anything but help our athletic programs.

Good post. This shows Long is building for the future not just the present.

Also, if these projections hold, NWA will be one of the 30 fastest growing metros in the United States - and possibly much higher if the trend continues to escalate.

I recognize the growth every time I get on that four-lane interstate. One thing to remember about the population growth here is that there a lot of people moving in who have nothing and want nothing to do with the Razorbacks. They are out-of-state graduates being recruited by Walmart, Tyson, J.B. Hunt, Sam’s Club, Procter & Gamble, vendors, etc. That also makes it a much more transient community than it used to be. The vendors for Coca-Cola are often biding their time before they can get to Atlanta, for instance. Working the Walmart account is often the final step before getting that gig and I’ve heard similar stories from vendors for other companies.

My wife is a school teacher in Bentonville. She said she sees very few students wearing Razorback clothes. She sees lots of other colleges and lots of pro teams represented. That is likely a reflection of the parents’ own interests. I’ve heard many transplants complain about how monotonous sports radio is here with so much focus on the Razorbacks.

I’m not saying it won’t have positive results from an attendance standpoint, just pointing out what I have observed about the region the last several years.

I do think the area will continue to produce more recruits. We’ve seen that in football the past decade or so and are beginning to see that in basketball. That’s a reflection of not only the population growth, but the investment the larger schools have made in athletic funds for coaches, facilities, team camps, etc.

I agree with you, Matt. I experience that here too. But certainly many will stay, some will fall in love, some of their kids will grow up here, and it’s just easier to recruit Bentonville or Springdale than it is out of state areas, no matter who the kids are rooting for.

So maybe the area won’t have allegiance to the Razorbacks in the way Birmingham/Hoover does for the Crimson Tide, for example. But I think your minimizing the overall positives just a bit. If everyone came and left as soon as possible, the trend lines wouldn’t be so steep.

No doubt many are staying. My in-laws’ best friends moved here from Dallas for the wife’s job at P&G. They dreaded moving here, but fell in love with the area and I doubt they ever move.

If 20 % of the Wal Mart ,etc. move-in/move outs either become Hog fans and take that with them elsewhere or come back here as retired Hog fans, you’ve still grown a very affluent part of the fan base. It also does not hurt that their presence generally makes the whole area wealthier.

From the University and athletic department’s point of view I think the long-term impact of the incredible increase in the number of students from adjoining states is an even bigger deal. When you are on campus now the number of out of state plates is amazing. All those young Texans, etc. are going to create a much stronger alumni/fan base out of state in the next couple of decades. More visibility, more influence, more donations.

I think you are correct. I taught at the UA from for two years. I knew about the Texas enrollment surge, but what jumped out to me was the draw from other regional cities like Kansas City and Oklahoma City. I barely knew anyone from those towns when I was an undergrad, but I had several of them each semester as a GA.

By 2035 the Hogs might be playing two hand touch. Lots will change during the next 15 years.

I, too, think growth is good and am always bragging on NWA to out of towners, but get ready for lots of infrastructure challenges ahead - roads, water/sewer, airport, fire, police, services, etc. I frequently hear people say they don’t like how fast it has grown. I even had a woman say that we stole her coach. She moved here from Wisconsin! I agree it all should be good for the UofA…

I don’t live in NWA, but I am excited about its potential. However, I hope the state gov’t & local population recognize the infrastructure needs to grow with it. Highways are just part of it. There was talk a few years ago of a light rail system. That’d be a great boost.

I’m not too concerned about stadium expansion. That’s easy enough to do. Not necessarily cheap, but easy. We could add to the SEZ or even raze & rebuild the west side. However, I’m not sure we need for RRS to be a 100k stadium even if the population is 1M by 2030. It doesn’t hurt for ticket demand to exceed availability. My biggest concern is we have enough cheap seats so younger fans can experience the game without robbing the bank. Those fans become donors as adults.

I believe those concerns have been addressed. The upper deck ticket prices have been reduced and there are plans for a standing room area. Whether that is sufficient is still a question.

The next step of stadium expansion is easy to predict – a deck on top of the SEZ. Which does not have to be a small deck. It could be huge, a la this one the Aggies built, which I think has like 12,000 seats:

I agree with Marty that the reduced upper deck prices and the SRO area will help. Sufficient? Another question.

Yes, I know we’ve done that & I’m really happy we’ve done it. However, I’m not convinced it’s sufficient. I know we plan to add some SRO tickets as part of the expansion & that should help.

I am sure there are people who move into NWA who don’t intend to stay here long and have no plans to put down any roots, including cheering for the local team. But things change. Bud Walton didn’t grow up a Hog fan either, but his name is on the arena. I don’t think Charlie Baum was a local either. Or Willard Walker.

My wife and I will be increasing the population as we have just finished purchasing our retirement home east of Springdale. We are looking forward to leaving the DFW metroplex for a much better way of life in NW Arkansas. As we age I am glad the population will be increasing and not declining. We are both looking forward to becoming season ticket holders for Razorback Baseball.

Need much more than a couple thousand more seats

Not yet. As others (particularly those in Central Arkansas who want games in WMS to continue) have noted, we are not a hard sellout. There are tickets left on the website for every home game except Bama, and I bet at some point, probably game week or after A&M anyway, there will be a few of those too. And one thing about the additional premium seats in this expansion – the people who buy those will by and large be giving up the $65 seats in the regular sections, so there will be up to 4200 of those coming open.

In addition to the population growth of NWA, there is another trend no one has mentioned: the enrollment at UA has doubled since I was in school. Which means roughly twice as many graduates (I know that not everyone who enrolls will get a diploma, but more students has to equal more grads). Obviously, not all of those grads will want football tickets. But a larger pool of alums = more demand for football tickets. UA has begun to address that with a “young alumni” program through the Foundation. Some of those people will move up to regular season tickets and be replaced in the “young alum” area by new grads.

At some point, that south deck will be needed. When? I don’t know enough about demographics to predict that, but I bet Jeff Long has an idea. And continued/greater success under Bielema will only accelerate the process.

Matt makes a good point on all the transplants in NWArk. I was there a few years ago, and had “created an excuse” of a meeting with some WalMart execs on a Friday before a big game. I flew in from Denver, had the meeting…and when we were finished, I asked if they were excited about the game. They asked me what game I was talking about…(I think it was Bama). The two folks I was meeting with had moved to Bentonville from Chicago and NY City. They had no clue or interest. As a kid who grew up in NWArk, it really was a wake-up call on the demographics and how they’ve changed in 40 years!

transients to NWA who have children might not have interest in the Hogs, but their children most definitely will be influenced by all the attention the Hogs receive in the area.

I never intended to remain in Tuscaloosa and intended to return to Little Rock, but I ended up enjoying the area from one particular area of interest so I stayed. And my kids would not consider Arkansas, though I am an avid Hog fan and travel each year to games near and far. My son now works for Alabama Alumni Association.

Point is those children of the transients may very well develop a love for NWA and the Hogs and consider it their home forever, just like my kids here.