Officials have formally announced a partnership between the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and the state Department of Parks and Tourism that will have the Razorbacks football team playing Missouri in Little Rock in 2019, 2021 and 2023.
The agreement was first reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Wednesday.
During a Thursday morning news conference, UA Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek said a new contract includes three Thanksgiving weekend games against the Missouri Tigers at War Memorial Stadium. He said it was not simply a "dollars and cents” decision but a compromise that involved traveling and listening to Razorback fans all over the state.
"When it comes to the Razorbacks in this state, the investment is much deeper than a simple spreadsheet," Yurachek said. "It might not be a perfect solution for our constituents individually but it is the right decision for Arkansas collectively."
The Missouri games at War Memorial will take place in 2019, 2021 and 2023, according to a news release. Pending SEC approval, the Razorbacks will play their annual Red-White spring intra-squad game at War Memorial in off years, officials said.
In the event a waiver is not provided, Arkansas will not be required to play the spring game in Little Rock.
The SEC provided Arkansas a waiver to play its 2018 spring game at War Memorial Stadium last month because of construction work at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. It was Arkansas' first spring game played off campus since 1989.
Parks department director Kane Webb signed the contract May 9. UA athletics director Hunter Yurachek signed it Monday, and UA Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz signed it Wednesday.
According to the contract, War Memorial games are expected to meet benchmarks for tickets sold and ticket revenue each year. The contract stipulates that 47,000 tickets should be sold each year at the 54,120-seat stadium, and ticket revenue should total at least $2.1 million in 2019, increasing by $200,000 each game to $2.5 million in 2023. In the event those benchmarks are not met, the two parties will discuss circumstances that could have led to decreased figures and practices to improve ticket sales in future games.
There were 36,055 tickets sold for Arkansas' regular-season opener against Florida A&M last August and 46,988 for a game against Alcorn State in 2016. The Florida A&M attendance was the lowest at War Memorial since a 1996 game against LSU.
The Parks department has promised to make stadium improvements in two phases, beginning with 2019 changes that will replace the playing turf, upgrade network broadcast infrastructure, improve Wi-Fi and cellphone connectivity, replace audio speakers, implement mobile ticket scanning practices and comply with expected SEC minimum standards for visitor locker rooms. The Parks department also promises to work with law enforcement agencies to improve traffic flow around the stadium.
A second phase of improvements will address the need for security cameras in the stadium and improved locker rooms for home teams and officials.
According to figures provided by the university, the Razorbacks' games in Fayetteville were worth an average per-game revenue of $7.4 million over the past five years, compared with $3.7 million in Little Rock. The Fayetteville per-game revenue is expected to increase to around $8.4 million after renovation.
Arkansas is the only major college football team that plays home games each year in two locations. Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State ended their practice of playing home games in large regional cities Birmingham, Ala., and Jackson, Miss., between 1990 and 2003.
Kevin Crass, chairman of the War Memorial Stadium commission, said he was “excited and grateful” for the tradition of playing in Little Rock to continue.
“Sometimes we sell ourselves short with the uniqueness of playing games in Little Rock,” Crass said. “Where Jackson and Birmingham have failed, Little Rock has thrived and survived, and we have a lot of people to thank for that.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson praised the partnership in a statement Thursday afternoon.
"War Memorial evokes a sense of nostalgia, and many families have great memories of the games they attended there," Hutchinson said. "And for some fans, these games in Little Rock are their only opportunity to see the Hogs play in person, and maybe their only chance to attend a big-time SEC football game."
The Razorbacks’ next game at War Memorial is against Ole Miss in October, the last Little Rock game under the current contract. UA has played annually at the stadium since it opened in 1948.
Read Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.