Razorbacks in LR through 2016

LITTLE ROCK — A two-year extension of the contract for the Razorback football team to play in Little Rock makes sense and is worthwhile to both sides, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said Friday.

Though he refused to commit to games past 2016, Long also said War Memorial Stadium officials are on the right track to securing games beyond that with renovation of the pressbox and the possible addition of club seating.

Long and Gary Smith, chairman of the War Memorial Stadium Commission, announced the extension at a news conference after the commission met briefly to approve an amendment to the contract with the UA.

As previously reported, two years will be added to the original 15-year contract and the obligation to play three games twice before the end of the 2014 season will be waived. In effect, Little Rock nets two games — a valuable tool for financing various stadium projects.

Long said the Razorbacks are important to the entire state and that there would be other discussions about playing in Little Rock after 2016.

"We'll continue to talk about the future; we make no commitments about that," he said.

Asked what War Memorial could do to secure games after 2016, Long said there is no way to know what the college landscape will be nine years down the road, but he thought future plans for the stadium were positive.

When a reporter followed up on the mention of club seats, Long asked if he had "let a secret out."

"We do have future plans to add some club seating, so we're going to have to see how that goes," Smith said.

Prior to the news conference, Smith told the Arkansas News Bureau that, "in a perfect world," 10,000 outdoor club seats would be added to War Memorial and occupants of those seats would have access to an indoor club. Such a project, he said, could cost $30 to $50 million. At Fayetteville, club seats cost $125 per game.

"Capacity would help us, no doubt about that," Smith said.

The 60-year-old stadium has not been expanded since capacity was increased to 53,727 in 1974.

Renovation of the pressbox is up next, at a cost of about $8 million, Smith said.

As the commission proceeds with construction projects, it needs financial flexibility, Smith said. The commission can only issue bonds for the length of its contract with the university, he said, and that prompted officials to seek an extension of the contract.

Long was approached about the idea shortly after he was hired last year and said during a phone conversation in the spring that he wanted to finish the discussion about the contract extension. There were no offers or counter offers, Smith said, and the deal was done last month in about 15 minutes.

Long said the amended contract gives the Razorbacks more flexibility in their football schedule by removing the obligation to twice play three games in Little Rock. The recent 10-year commitment to play Texas A&M in Dallas was part of the equation, he said.

"This (contract extension) is a nine-year commitment, ... one that really does settle this discussion for now," Long said.

The extension continues the obligation to play one Southeastern Conference opponent in Little Rock every year. In response to a question, Long said he had not heard any negative sentiment from fans in Fayetteville about continuing to play in Little Rock, but that he would point out to them that the school is the University of Arkansas.

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