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Saturday, September 30, 2023

RNN Sports Exclusive: The Razorbacks Fans’ Game Day Experience

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Note to Our Readers: The following story was written following the Arkansas Razorbacks’ opening season victory over the Cincinnati Bearcats on September 3, 2022, at Donald W. Reynolds Razorbacks Stadium. RNN Sports would like to thank our newest addition to our sports photojournalism staff, Mr. James Shelly of Lavaca. Mr. Shelly was on the sidelines that day to bring you the game day photos from the field. Finally, RNN Sports would like to acknowledge and thank Amanda Brooks of ESPN Images for her assisting in securing some of the photos for this story.

We hope you enjoy this story that can also give fans some tips on how to make the best of their game day experience at Razorbacks Stadium!

If you have not been to Fayetteville recently for a Razorbacks football game, life has changed a little in the past few years. In fact, in 2019, I had the fortune of being on the sideline to photograph the Razorbacks vs. Western Kentucky that happened to be the last game of the Chad Morris era as the Hogs’ head coach. On that day, it looked like Razorbacks Stadium was preparing for the COVID era that was months away. There were not many fans in the stands that day, and the atmosphere was bleak. But since the arrival of new coach Sam Pittman and the easing of COVID restrictions, DWR Razorbacks Stadium is rocking on game day and could be argued as one of the loudest and most intimidating road atmospheres for visiting teams.

So, when RNN Sports decided to do this story, we wanted to center it on the fans’ perspective; a primer on the pageantry of the experience, as well as, perhaps, some tips on how to maximize your game day experience at the stadium.

RNN Sports did a photographic essay of the Razorbacks’ game with Cincinnati on September 3, 2022. RNN Sports had a photographer on the field and myself in the stadium. Combined, RNN Sports was able to bring our fans the total effect of the stadium atmosphere from the field level to the stadium seats. And on this highly-anticipated opening day of the 2022 season, the Hogs were hosting a team that was a national semi-finalist in the 2021 college football playoffs. The game would be an early measure of how far the Razorbacks football program has come with respect to returning to a nationally-competitive level.

Kickoff time for this game was scheduled for 2:30 p.m. The game was nationally televised on ESPN, and the SEC Network was on campus to present the game as its prime time game of the week. The ESPN SEC Network production crew was on campus on Friday morning to set up for its Friday afternoon television shows. Due to the weather conditions in Fayetteville that threatened rain, the crew errected stage sets both outdoors and indoors to have the ability to react to possible rain during filming of the shows. On Friday morning, the Razorbacks Communication Office forwarded an email from the ESPN production crew stating, “We want to make everyone aware where we’ll be set up for media availability today. There will be an outdoor location and an indoor contingency location in case its pouring. If it is sprinkling, we’ll still do it (record the show) outside.” The outside location of the show was just outside Gearhart Hall near the parking location of the SEC Nation bus, and the indoor backup location was inside Gearhart Hall in room 38. Local media was not allowed at the event, but ESPN had their own photographers present, and they shard their photos with RNN Sports. RNN Sports would like to thank Amanda Brooks of ESPN for sharing the images below.

The set of the ESPN show SEC Nation live from the campus of the University of Arkansas (Image Special to RNN Sports by ESPN Images / Gunnar Rathbun)

The rain cleared on Friday night in Fayetteville, and the game day weather for Saturday was more fall-like than late summer that has normally brought high temperatures for the first few games of the year. It was a beautiful day in Fayetteville to kickoff the season against a Top 25 team, and thousands of Razorbacks fans made the annual pilgrimage to Fayetteville to call the hogs!

With the expansion of Razorbacks Stadium to just over 72,000 seats, parking has become a premium for fans. In previous years, it was no problem to arrive two hours or just a little sooner before kickoff. Now, and especially on high-profile games such as last Saturday, fans should consider arriving up to three hours before kickoff to secure a parking place.

Perhaps the best parking deal available to fans is to park in the Baum-Walker (Hogs baseball stadium) parking lot. There is no charge to park there, and the University provides shuttle buses that will take you directly to the stadium and will return you to the parking lot after the game. This is a great service provided by air condition and heated Razorbacks Transit buses. But if you arrive inside of two hours before kickoff, you will likely find yourself scrambling for a parking spot, as my wife and I did on Saturday. And that parking spot may cost you anywhere from $15 – $50, depending on how close to the stadium you park. In fact, last year’s Texas game, the lot at Baum-Walker was full and closed two hours before kickoff.

Image Credit: UARK News

So to get to Fayetteville and to arrive in a timely manner to get a good parking spot, it requires planning. Many fans will try to incorporate a stop to eat a meal on the way to Fayetteville. After all, concessions are a little pricey at Razorbacks Stadium. Bottle water is just shy of $5 each, drinks can run as high as $7, and beer is $8.49 per bottle. And very importantly, fans should remember that cash is not accepted in the stadium concession stands and merchandising stores; it is credit or debit cards only at Razorbacks Stadium. In big news this year, the cola vendor for the stadium has switched from Pepsi to Coca-Cola. All Coca-Cola products are now on sale throughout the stadium.

RNN Sports Photo / Jim Best

Many fans prefer to eat prior to the game where restaurant prices may be less expensive. Timing is everything; expect long lines at restaurants as all fans are doing the same thing. One spot in particular, the Cracker Barrel in Alma, seems to be a popular way point along the way to the game; but fans should allow a good hour to get in and to eat. Fayetteville is approximately one hour from the Cracker Barrel, but traffic off of the interstate and into Baum-Walker can delay you another 30 minutes to even one hour once you exit the highway.

Fans should consider long wait times to be seated at local restaurants before kickoff time (RNN Sports Photo / Jim Best)

Once at the stadium, the staff is very organized and does a very good job of getting people through security, scanning electronic tickets, and into the stadium. Fans should remember that clear purses are required to enter the stadium, as well. Stadium metal detectors are in use, so it is no longer necessary to empty you pockets, etc., unless you are asked to do so. Once inside, fans can make use of free WiFi that is available throughout the stadium. And the Arkansas Razorbacks app is free to fans on the App Store and can provide stadium directions and other information directly to fans on game day.

The newly expanded and renovated north end zone portion of the stadium provides club seating as well as shops, the A Club (lettermans’ club) and other amenities for donors and fans. There are elevators to the upper deck as well as stairs for those who are brave to scale the mountain of stairs to the upper deck. If you take the elevator, you need to plan for additional time to wait in line for an elevator.

As mentioned before, beer is on sale, and there are beer concessions in both end zones as well as on both sides of the stadium. Identification is required, and, remember, it is debit or credit card only. It can be expensive if you choose to drink, two beers each for a couple is more than $34.

The pregame ceremony on the field begins approximately 25 minutes before kickoff. The Marching Razorback Band, cheerleaders, and pom squad are all featured during the ceremony. And the U of A Alma Mater, “Mother of Mothers”, is a must see experience. Known for being one of the most beautiful school alma maters ever written, the accompanying video along with lyrics from the song on both end zone video boards is truly inspiring and is emotional to me every time I experience it.

All together, the pageantry of college football at the University of Arkansas is second to none. Our game day sideline photographer, James Shelly, captured some of those images Saturday during the Cincinnati game.

RNN Sports Photo / James Shelly

And, of course, there is the game itself. The Cincinnati game lived up to its hype and was hotly contested for the entire game with the Razorbacks winning their home opener by the score of 31-24. The Hogs will play this Saturday again in Fayetteville when they host the South Carolina Gamecocks in the first SEC conference game of the 2022 season for both schools. In the photos below, our photographer, James Shelly, captured these great images of Razorbacks seniors K. J. Jefferson (1) and Bumper Pool (10) during the game.

And based upon the crowd last week and the Hogs’ victory over a very good football team, I expect the stadium to be at or near capacity again this weekend. Perhaps the best unsolicited advice I can offer to our readers who plan to go to the game is to…ARRIVE EARLY…VERY EARLY. This weekend’s game with South Carolina will likely be a near sellout, and, another victory on Saturday sets up the return visit of former Hogs head football coach Bobby Petrino when he brings in Missouri State to DWR Razorbacks Stadium to play an emotional non-conference game with the Razorbacks.

So…Hogs fans…arrive early, and enjoy what looks like a great season ahead of Razorbacks football! And in doing so, enjoy one of the best game day experiences in college football!

RNN Sports Photo / James Shelly

RNN Sports thanks the following people and organizations that made this story possible:

Mr. James Shelly, RNN Sports sideline photographer

Ms. Amanda Brooks, ESPN Images

University of Arkansas Office of Communications

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Jim Best
Jim Best is a man of many talents. His storied career in Arkansas education led him to a new passion, and hidden gifts in sports journalism.
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