LITTLE ROCK — Bland as an ad can be, the one for tickets to Razorback football games in Little Rock comes with an implied threat to those who insist on connecting the dots.
Combine unsold tickets and War Memorial Stadium and I fast forward a couple of years to what might happen when the contract expires between the UA and Little Rock. The inevitable conclusion is that Razorback fans who crave games in Little Rock must put up or shut up. This is not an issue confined to central Arkansas; it involves fans from Texarkana to Lake Village to West Memphis.
Dispatched by the Razorback Ticket Center, the recent ad arrived in an e-mail. On a black background, the words "Little Rock" in red precede "Season Ticket Packages Available Now!" in white.
At this point, tickets to Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 8 and Ole Miss on Oct. 27 are sold together for $120. Directed to a website, a buyer learns that the seats are in sections 17-19 in a corner of the South end zone and in sections 34-38 which is pretty much the entire North end zone. All told, more than 7,000 seats are available.
Southeastern Conference opponent Ole Miss would sell out if tickets did not include the ULM tax, but Razorback fans do not have the luxury of cherry picking. In Fayetteville, fans buy the season ticket package, including Jacksonville State and two other non-conference opponents, to be sure they will see Alabama and LSU. Two sellouts are a prerequisite to any argument for games in Little Rock.
Just recently have fans been able to buy this year’s season tickets without paying a $75 premium. For those who want to secure tickets beyond 2012, the premium still exists. The $75 donation to buy a ticket was a bone of contention last year and the Razorback Foundation lost out on a potential $435,000 when fans refused to renew 5,800 season tickets. One of the arguments was that the seat premium is more palatable in Fayetteville where end zone seats are far more comfortable.
Eventually, the donation was waived and about half of the tickets were sold. Some who refused to make the donation waited until single-game tickets went on sale for $55. Eventually, all but about 750 tickets were sold for the 52-3 rout of New Mexico. Even then, the announced crowd was 52,606, the lowest in several years and duly noted by UA folks.
In the days that followed, the fear that the Razorbacks would abandon Little Rock was renewed. Always simmering, that same concern bubbled up again early this year when UA athletic director Jeff Long announced that the LSU game would be played in Fayetteville for the first time in years and that the Razorbacks would meet their Little Rock obligation by playing Ole Miss.
Explaining the decision, Long cited the larger stadium capacity in Fayetteville and the fact that the Razorbacks would not have to travel three straight weekends in what he called the "most crucial part of the season." Arkansas plays at South Carolina on Nov. 10 and at Mississippi State on Nov. 17 leading up to the Nov. 23 game against LSU, the preseason pick of many to be No. 1 in the country.
The contract between the UA and Little Rock calls for two Razorback games per year in Little Rock, including one against an SEC opponent. Shortly before Long made the announcement about the site of the LSU game, War Memorial Stadium manager Charlie Staggs was quoted as saying he was concerned that Razorback games in Little Rock might be reduced after the contract expires following the 2016 season.
Long understands the value of the Razorback presence in Little Rock, but he isn’t about to commit past the life of the contract. He will pay attention to the results of the latest ad campaign.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.