College baseball was one of those sports cut off in midseason last year by COVID-19. With their team coming off consecutive appearances in the College World Series and looking to make a run at three in a row, Razorback baseball fans were as ready as any to return to the ballpark in 2021.
With attendance limitations still in place, Diamond Hogs fans have been filling Baum-Walker Stadium in smaller doses and calling the Hogs under their masks and gaiters. When the season started in late February, Arkansas Department of Health guidelines allowed for 4,218 fans inside Baum, which has an official capacity of 11,531.
By early March, the state had increased attendance at outdoor sporting events to 49.4 percent of capacity, which meant around 5,700 fans allowed inside Baum beginning with the Oklahoma game on March 16. And Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek announced earlier this year that the UA is planning for full capacity at home football games this fall.
For owners of retail shops that deal exclusively in Razorback gear, a suspended baseball season and football and basketball campaigns with limited attendance hammered home the economic impact of the Razorbacks on their hometown. But with vaccines taking hold and attendance at Arkansas sporting events on the rise, these purveyors of Porker products are optimistic the light they see ahead is the end of the pandemic tunnel.
Robert Mann, a former manager of the UA’s Hog Heaven store inside Bud Walton Arena, owns The Stadium Shoppe on Razorback Road, just a Heston Kjerstad dinger from Baum. He described baseball season as a big deal for his store.
“With baseball a perennial powerhouse and things looking up in football and basketball, we’re optimistic for the remainder of 2021,” he said.
Hogman’s Gameday Superstore sits just across Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from the UA campus. The Fayetteville location is seeing traffic return to normal as well, according to Allie Brown, director of digital marketing, social media and retail operations.
“Obviously, having baseball as the No. 1 team, Coach [Eric] Musselman doing great for men’s basketball… I don’t see other sports being far behind,” she said. “The great coaching staffs that have been brought in are helping keep the University of Arkansas on the map.”
At Alumni Hall, the popular Fayetteville Razorback outlet, store manager Stephanie Roets said the Diamond Hogs’ success is helping business pick up the slack from 2020.
“We actually see the most traffic coming from baseball,” she said. “People are a lot more excited about other sports getting good at the same time. We’re thrilled for the UA giving fans little victories by opening up baseball to allow for more fans in the seats.”
Turns out, those little victories are extending beyond the playing field.