By Ricky Blair
There has been a lot of talk this past season of why the fan base for both UK football and basketball has not been as enthusiastic about attending the games and supporting the Wildcats. It is really a simple answer……………Greed!!!
Despite the SEC conference signing mega TV package deals with ESPN, which at one time the deal was reportedly worth 2 billion dollars over a 15 year period and a CBS Sports contract which is reportedly worth 55 million a year. The Kentucky brain trust over at the athletic department have continued to raise ticket prices for both the men’s basketball and football games. Think about that………Kentucky Athletic Department is pulling in more money than ever from the Southeastern Conference, but they are still raising the price of tickets.
Why is this? Do they need the extra money to help pay the bills? Evidently not. Kentucky athletics has bragged that they give several million each year to the UK general fund, because they have an abundance. So what they are telling the UK fan base is we don’t mind sticking it to our most loyal fans, just so we can spend and give away money like it is candy.
UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart has done a lot of good things for the UK sports programs, especially the ones that don’t carry their own weight. Like soccer, volleyball etc. I’ve always agreed that UK could be successful at these minor sports and over the last several years a good majority of these programs have been successful. And I know that this takes money that comes from the major programs like basketball and football. But what I don’t agree with is how UK foolishly disregards the dedication of their most loyal fans. UK football and basketball fans have been some of the most loyal fans in all of college sports. The Kentucky football fan base in particular has been there through a lot of bad times, but they kept coming back. What has been their reward for this unbelievable dedication? Well, just recently the UK athletic department decided to shuffle up all the seats and move every fan, including some fans that had been in their same seats since Commonwealth Stadium opened. And what was the main reason behind this move……….it was so UK could open up club seating and charge more for the better seats. So, the result was that several long time dedicated fans decided to stop going to the games. What a shame.
Almost all the upgrades for the football stadium or basketball arena go for the big donor. Is the guy who has been coming for 30 years and sitting up in the upper deck rewarded; of course not. He doesn’t have a back on his bench or a chair style seat to claim as his own. He is forced to scrunch together on an aluminum bench with his fellow brethren like a bunch of sardines.
Even UK knows how outrageous their pricing is on tickets. After they sale as many season football packages as possible. They come right back and sale discounted packages that cost $25 per game ticket, but the cavot on these tickets is you don’t know where you will sit from game to game. In most cases these people actually end up with better tickets than about half of the season ticket holders and for a far better price.
Basketball has been just as bad, if not worse. Not only have the administration continued to raise ticket prices almost every year, but everywhere you look in Rupp Arena there is an advertisement. When the Wildcats go on a big run and the other team calls a time out, you would think Kentucky would have something set up to keep the fan base excited and cheering, so the Wildcats could continue their momentum, but no……………….there is usually some announcement about another sponsor promo or that the fans in one row in a certain section of the arena has just won a Hunt Brothers Pizza.
And then the administrators wonder out loud why the fan base is not showing the excitement that they used to in previous years. Even the new Jumbo Tron wide screen in the middle of Rupp Arena is used as more of a sales tool than one of generating fan excitement. The next time you see that mega screen say, Cheer, Clap or get on your feet and support the Cats may also be the first. The Chick-fil-a free biscuit to each fan if an opposing player misses two consecutive free throws, generates the most excitement of anything on the jumbo screen, and while this is still an advertisement, you would think it would wake up the UK brain trust on how to use the screen as a fan motivator, the fans go wild as the opposing player attempts his free throws, but so far that is about as good as it gets to trying to involve the fans.
Greed!!! Yes, greed is killing the UK fan experience.
This past year the face value of an upper level ticket for the UK-U of L basketball game was $120 dollars. That is scalper pricing. Most SEC games have a price tag of $75 per ticket, which is still about double of what they should be. These ticket prices have doubled over a short period of time, which is ridiculous when you realize that with the television packages there was really no reason for the increase. What that pricing is doing is running off your average fan. I’ve had season tickets for over 20 years and during the first 15 years, it was pretty much the same fans year in and year out that were sitting in those seats in my section, but during the last couple of years, it has been an almost completely new group that have taken over those seats. Some of who are only there for one year and then they move on. Those dedicated fans, from years past just couldn’t afford to come any more, so they didn’t renew their tickets. They were priced out of the market. Now you hear an outcry of why are there open seats at Rupp during some of these big games? It is really simple. UK has made these tickets unaffordable for a fan base that comes from a state where the median income is just $46,000 dollars.
Think about that……………….for the Louisville basketball game a family of four would have spent $480 just for tickets and that is not even counting the cost of parking, buying something from the concession stands etc. You are talking about a $600 night on the town. And this is not even for the best seats, this is for upper level seating. When you consider the median income of Kentucky, then you are talking about a week’s pay, just to go to one game. That is pretty insane.
Barnhart and other UK administrators, need to spend a little less time with the big donors and spend more time with the average fan from the far reaches of Kentucky. The fans in southern or eastern Kentucky, then maybe they will realize how far from reality they are living. This fan base is not from New York City, they are not from Los Angeles. This fan base has very little expendable income and don’t deserve to have one of their true loves, the Kentucky sports programs, priced right out of their range.
Here is something else to think about. The fans who actually go to the games have not benefitted at all by the big TV contracts, in fact they suffer because of these contracts. Because the tv networks rule all decisions, the games in the early part of the season are played on a Friday night or a Sunday night or some other ridiculous time. This is not nearly convenient for the fans as it once was, when you could go to a UK football game during the day on a Saturday, then attend an early season basketball game that same night. The loyal fans who attend the games pay a lot more for a whole lot less.
Exhibit A: How were the fans rewarded for that outrageously priced Louisville basketball game? Well because of TV, the game was played in the middle of the day on a Friday, not really conducive for pretty much any fan’s schedule. But I guess the TV executives were happy.
UK has pushed away and lost several fans, because they are more interested in the big bucks today than they are in having a loyal fan base that will be there with them through thick and thin. They have over priced their men’s basketball and football tickets so much that they are almost worthless. I heard one caller on a local radio show, who said he has to call 8 to 10 people before he can find someone interested in his lower level tickets and I’ve heard others who say they end up just giving their tickets away, because people don’t want to pay the face value, because it is just too much.
Greed of over priced tickets and of giving more attention to advertisers than to coordinating fan involvement and enthusiasm is killing UK sports. Let’s hope some changes are made before it is too late. The UK fan base is being pushed away by the UK administration. Currently, it is a train wreck, but a few changes could make all the difference. Kentucky fans have earned and deserve better. We can only hope someone in charge comes to their senses before it is too late.