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By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky’s basketball success in recent years comes with a price — at least for those attending games at Rupp Arena.
Despite record revenue pouring in from the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky raised basketball ticket prices by $7 per ticket two years ago, and donations to the K Fund for priority seating increased for the best seats in the lower arena.
On Tuesday, Kentucky voted to increase basketball ticket prices by $5 each and increase required donations for some priority seats. During its athletics meeting, UK officials said they hope to raise about $3.5 million from the increases, which will go to offset rising costs of travel and coaching salaries.
Last season Rupp Arena tickets were in the $35 to $40 price range depending on seat location. That did not include any additional donations required to the K Fund. Next season single-season tickets will increase to $50 for lower arena and $42 for upper arena.
It’s not often that lower arena single-game tickets are even available for sale, but at times upper level tickets go on sale if UK students do not use all their allotted tickets.
K-Fund donations on about 1,300 seats in the lower level will increase about $400 per seat and overall about 2,750 seats will have K Fund increases ranging from $50 to $400.
A total of about 2,750 seats will be affected by K-Fund increases from $50 to about $400. The total donations vary from $450 to $1,900 per seat. The first four rows of Rupp seating will not face an increase because those took a dramatic rise last year with donations amounting to about $5,000 per seat.
UK athletics will increase its support of academics. President Eli Capilouto said athletics will support up to $3 million in academic scholarships per year, up from $1.7 million this past school year.
“We are proud to be able to make this substantial increase in the amount of dollars contributed for the benefit of the academic side of the university, most especially in helping students with greater scholarship opportunities,” UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart said Tuesday. “While this increase is not a recurring commitment, our goal is to continue to support the university’s academic mission as long as our budget will sustain it.”
Through 2011-12, UK Athletics has donated $21,083,420 to the university in scholarships and royalties during Barnhart’s 10-year tenure. Going beyond that, UK Athletics has contributed over $100 million in scholarships, indirect royalties and expenses.
“We are fortunate to have an athletics program that is self-sustaining – one of the few in the country – and that makes a concerted effort to contribute to the academic life of the institution,” Capilouto said. “Thanks to that financial strength and commitment, we are able to help many additional students make their UK education more affordable.”
However, UK’s $91.9 million athletics budget remains middle of the pack in the Southeastern Conference. Two years ago Barnhart cited the need for a new recruiting room at Commonwealth Stadium to enhance the football program — where it looks like season ticket sales will drop for a third straight year — as well as a new baseball stadium. Neither has happened.
Raising basketball ticket prices helps those needs as well as the basketball needs. However, some basketball season ticket holders grumbled immediately about paying more to see fewer marquee games in Rupp Arena and others wondered what impact increased prices might have on “average” fans that sit in the top half of the upper deck.
But with the success UK has had the last three years under John Calipari, the demand for UK basketball has never been higher. With prices escalating in every part of life, an increase in ticket prices was predictable. But a friend today also told me it was going to cost him $125 per ticket to see Kentucky play football at Missouri this season. Tell me which seems a better value — a $50 UK basketball ticket or $125 Missouri football ticket.