What about WMS?

This question is prompted by my lifelong friend Rex Nelson’s column in today’s ADG about the future of War Memorial Stadium, with or without an annual Razorback game.

http://www.wholehogsports.com/news/2016 … -20160907/#/

(I would characterize Rex as a Razorback fan, but not a diehard one, by the way. He bleeds Ouachita purple and gold first and foremost, supports all Arkansas teams in general and is a booster of the central Arkansas area in particular. So he’s very much in favor of continuing to play in WMS.)

I’m not trying to stir the GSD back up, so this is not about what anyone thinks SHOULD happen, but what WILL happen. Here are the key facts:

  1. The UA contract with WMS expires after the 2018 season, and currently calls for one more SEC game to be played in WMS either in 2017 or 2018. It could be extended, of course. Or Jeff Long could probably buy it out early.

  2. We have not had a sellout in WMS in several years, including for the Georgia game in 2014, which was almost but not quite full. This year, it looks like ticket sales for Alcorn are quite meager.

  3. The expansion/renovation of RRS is going to be approved by the trustees this week and I expect it will be complete for the 2018 season, certainly by 2019. This will increase revenue for Fayetteville games and increase the financial hit of playing in Little Rock by probably $500K or more per game.

  4. Two other relevant facts: The SEC schedule rotation has Vandy as a home game in 2018. And A&M wants to get out of JerryWorld and start playing us home and home (our contract with Jerry runs through 2024).

Taking these into account, here is what I think JL will do:

We will complete the current contract with WMS, possibly with Vandy there in 2018 to fulfill that contractual requirement of an SEC game. The contract will not be renewed, because of the RRS expansion and because of weak ticket sales in LR. But that does not necessarily mean we will never play in Little Rock again. We won’t play there every year, but occasionally, IMO. Particularly after we get out of JerryWorld, in years when we have the Aggies at home.


I think the scenario you laid out is a good one. Economic realities being what they are, we can’t afford to continue playing there every year but it would be nice to keep the tradition alive and give something back to Central, South and East Arkansas by playing there once every two or three years. It would help attendance wise, if the opponent for LR games was someone more significant than Alcorn State.

I could see JL buying out the contract a year early and playing all home games in 2018 in the newly remodeled RRS.

The City of LR got quite a bit of revenue in their coffers whenever the Razorbacks came to town, maybe if they had given some of that back to the UA it might have made a difference.

I grew up making the trip to LR to see the Hogs play at WMS and think they are going to lose part of the fan base when they leave, but times have changed.

Back to Rex Nelson’s column. I don’t understand the thinking behind giving up golf course for soccer fields. The area already has a tournament destination facility in Burns Park. Those are excellent grass fields and have hosted USYS regional and national tournaments in the past. Of course, they have also spent a little time under water. Only complaint I’ve ever heard from the St. Louis people who come for the college showcases in January, is car break ins when they stayed near the Capitol.

Maybe I didn’t read his column carefully enough, but I thought he was talking about using WMS as a soccer field. I don’t think he suggested tearing up the golf course for that.

As for the original point of the thread: what will happen with the UA & WMS, I agree the end of games there is in sight except for the occasional game perhaps. If WMS is reconfigured in the way Nelson suggests, I’m not sure they’d ever return.

I hate it that the Alcorn St game may draw almost no one, but we could have hardly picked a worse opponent for a game that stands alone for ticket sales. I live 8-9 miles from the stadium & I’m not sure I’ll go. Probably will, but can’t swear to it.

I wish Catholic High would quit playing there now that they have a nice turf field that simply needs lights and a bigger set of stands(JV and frosh play games there now). A good high school crowd gets lost in the place, and one team’s bench is in front of the empty west stands. Catholic does not have much of a home field advantage playing at WMS.

The stadium simply does not make sense any more. It was expanded to its current size to be the primary stadium for the Hogs, with every other use being an afterthought. Now it is not needed/desirable as the primary Hog stadium, so the question becomes why keep maintaining a 55,000 seat stadium which is perpetually under-used?

Maybe the answer is to downsize the stadium and turn it into a primary LRSD/Little Rock municipal stadium. Tear down the end zone seats and put in some landscaping and maybe even a track around the field and you would still have a big enough stadium for state high school championships and a more attractive venue for the size crowds likely to turn up for sporting events other than Hog games.

He is suggesting turning War Memorial Park into an Youth Sports Complex with Indoor Facilities and downsizing the Golf Course for more room for Soccer Fields. He also supports UALR having a football team and it would be there home. Just what we need another taxpayer subsidized football program.

I don’t understand why ASU, UCA, or UAPB don’t play at least one home game per year at WMS. If the Hogs pull out of LR it would make sense that one of those other programs, especially ASU, would want to capitalize by increasing their presence in that part of the state.

I actually thought the same thing. Even if AR continues to play there, I think each college should. That would give a reason to help “fix up” the stadium, and could lead to some good games down the road (especially if Long ever lets us play ASU).

Someone asked an interesting question today, are other users (UCA, ASU, or the high schools) of WMS charged the same as the Razorbacks?

I don’t think so. They don’t open all gates, turn on all of the lights, or hire nearly as many ushers, security, etc., for high school games, certainly, and probably not for UCA or ASU. Our high school team played a semifinal playoff game there in 1976 against Cabot, and I remember them saying it was the first time they’d opened both east and west sides of the stadium for a high school game. Certainly they do for the state finals in December every year now, but still I don’t think any crowds approach even 20,000.

By the way, I am pleased that this discussion hasn’t (yet) degenerated into one of our GSD wars.

And, in case you missed it, the relevant BOT committee approved the bond issue for the RRS expansion today; full BOT to vote tomorrow. I expect an 8-2 vote in favor.

Don’t see how removing seats is a cost cutter. It’s not like they’re polishing the aluminum bleachers. How much use does the golf course get these days? They could set up two 8v8 soccer fields inside the stadium with temporary markings and still use it for football. I really don’t think a multi grass field soccer complex is the highest and best use of that land. Big rock concerts could help fill the card. Of course there is always the chance that UAMS may bring Joni Mitchell’s prophecy to fruition.

The reason seats need to be removed is that WMS was built for American football – field is 160 feet wide. A regulation soccer field is much wider (most international fields are roughly 225 feet wide) and won’t work in the current stadium dimensions; it’s probably only about 210 feet from grandstand to grandstand at the 50 yard line, even less in the corners. It’s the same thing they had to do with the Cotton Bowl before using it for the 1994 World Cup games.

Those teams don’t really draw very well there. Seems like the last time ASU played there they drew about 21k. If they pay any rent at all it makes little financial sense. UCA & UAPB are already in central Ark so a game there doesn’t really give them exposre they don’t already have. Plus there’s the added cost of playing there. ASU would love to get more statewide support, but I’m not sure playing at WMS gives them enough for the cost. Remember, they don’t have many rent-a-win home games. They’re the ones on the road for money. That means only about 5 (maybe 6) home games a year. If they play at WMS they’d fall to only 4 or 5 home games. Not sure they want to reduce home schedule that much.

Six home games this year for the ASU Chihuahuas (yap at your ankles but pose no real danger). Their only rent-a-win game is at Auburn Saturday in the Gus Bowl, which probably was part of Gus’ release to leave Jonesboro Tech for the Barn. Other NC games are home and home with Utah State, and their own rent-a-win game with UCA.

Next year, they have rent-a-win games with Nebraska and The U. Possibly SMU as well, although I’m not sure SMU pays that well for its designated victims.

If I were the ASU AD, I’d quit… Seriously, I’d see an opportunity to at least try to expand my reach into central Arkansas as the Hogs sort of move out (although I’d say it’s questionable whether getting rid of one three-hour game per year makes all that much difference). But he doesn’t seem to see it that way. Probably is focusing on attracting people to Jonesboro instead.

I also think you can expect to see a push to reinstate football at UALR (which had a football team many moons ago as a junior college). I’m not sure how well that’s going to go over, unless LR big-bucks types agree to underwrite the program. They’re already soaking their students with fees pretty well for their football-free athletic program as it is.

ASU doesn’t want to play there for the very reason the Hogs shouldn’t…it doesn’t make financial sense. After spending money to upgrade their stadium, you don’t want to aggravate donors by taking a game away. Are there that many ASU fans in the Central Arkansas area to buy more tickets than the revenue generated from seats and suites in J’Boro? Doubtful.

Truth be told, I would imagine the cost of hosting events at WMS will be more than revenue generated once the Hogs stop playing there. In fact, it might actually be in the next couple of years (despite the fact UA is still under contract) because I believe the buyout for the canceled games was paid in advance. Seems I remember seeing that on KNWA report a couple weeks back.

Part of the inherent problem for WMS is that it costs more to open it for events than most events can generate in income. Even if there’s a slight revenue surplus, most events can increase that surplus by renting a cheaper venue. So that leaves the state (or perhaps city or county) with one question to answer: is it willing to subsidize the place. There’s always a chance for private donations to help out, but it’s unlikely to be enough to make it a break-even proposition.

Obviously a public property doesn’t have to pay for itself to be useful. After all, no public park does that, but a stadium is a bit different. So we’re back to the OP. Can it be renovated & restructured to be an excellent venue for HS football, HS & club soccer, track, etc? I’d say yes, but I have no idea how much that would cost. (The recent addition of the new pressbox/club seat area sure looks like a waste of money right now.)

I feel that way about the upcoming renovations to DWRRS. I live about 4 hours away and every other year I get season tickets, but every time I’ve been there in the last 5 years, there have been entire sections (not seats) that were empty. I know that happens at WMS as well, but I can’t see adding seats to a stadium that doesn’t sell out anyway. Not trying to start the GSD here, but creating seats for increased revenue when the current seats aren’t selling out makes no sense for either space.

But which seats are not selling out in RRS? It is not the type of seats being added, as there IS a high demand for premium seating. And which games did you attend at RRS? If there were entire sections empty, I cannot remember those games. Sure there were a few games that had empties, but usually those games were against “lesser opponents.” And the problem with games a few years ago was the team record, not the interest in Razorback football.