By ASHLEY SCOBY
With the results Kentucky has seen on the gridiron this season, it comes as no surprise to most when they see the UK student section less than full at Commonwealth Stadium. But at Rupp Arena? The absence of students is more noticeable and much more of a mystery.
If you have been at Rupp so far for the exhibition games or the opener against Lafayette, you probably have noticed a less-than-capacity ERUPPtion Zone (the standing-room-only area behind the basket closest to UK’s bench). Last year in the E-Zone, security would come by and make everyone squeeze together so that two rows of people would fit on each riser (they did this even for the games against lowly opponents last year). I’ve been to two games at Rupp so far this year (Northwood and Lafayette), and they have not made us move forward yet. Each row of students gets its own spacious riser instead of sharing it with others.
Attendance in the upper-deck student seating has also run fairly low so far this season.
So why is student attendance dwindling for a national championship-winning basketball team, especially when excitement for football is at an all-time low? (Granted, most of the 2012 champs are gone, but the program, coach, etc remain).
The answer is two-fold. Students have, above all else, become spoiled. Here are some exact quotes I picked up from the E-Zone during the Lafayette game:
“I miss last year’s team; this year’s team is disappointing.”
“Nerlens sucks compared to Anthony Davis.”
“Where was this team against Duke? Last year’s guys would have clobbered them.”
While these are just three students and in no way representative of the whole student body, that mentality seems to be the general consensus around campus and in the student sections at Rupp. Those who go to UK (especially those who did not suffer through Billy Gillispie’s years at UK) have become accustomed to nothing but success, and will accept nothing less. They were spoiled with last year’s team and expect all of Calipari’s teams to be at that level. Although the caliber of recruiting classes Coach Cal brings to UK won’t change significantly (#1 is still #1), last year’s team was unique.
With a national championship comes that “spoiled” attitude, but that kind of success also brings about an increase in bandwagon fans. Students who don’t go to other sporting events and who have never been interested in basketball are suddenly UK fanatics after a national championship. Those students will show up against teams like Louisville, Duke, North Carolina, etc (if those teams were in Rupp this year, that is). But for the Lafayette or Morehead State games? Those students are not interested in anything other than the big-time games with ESPN or CBS cameras rolling.
So how does UK solve this? The attitude many UK fans have after a national championship is hard to change. There is not much UK can do to dispel the notion Big Blue Nation has that every UK team has to go undefeated with a national championship.
As for only the “national championship” fans, rather than “University of Kentucky” fans showing up at Rupp, a change in the student ticket distribution system would do UK a lot of good.
Currently, UK students have to enter into a double lottery system. They create groups of no more than four people and enter into the first lottery – one based completely on chance. Only groups that are chosen in this (online) lottery are allowed to attend the actual lottery event at Memorial Coliseum. Once at Memorial, groups receive a number. Numbers are drawn randomly, and then groups go in the order they are called to purchase their tickets (lower section, E-Zone or upper deck).
With no rewards system in place to give priority to those who actually attend basketball games (and other sporting events), anyone is eligible for student section tickets. That means the people who go to every single volleyball, football and women’s basketball game have the same chance of getting men’s tickets as the people who plan on scalping their tickets for ten times face value.
I first noticed this problem last year when the North Carolina game at Rupp rolled around. I was not chosen in the lottery, so I had to search for someone selling a ticket if I were to have any chance of going. Those student tickets that were purchased from UK Athletics for $5 were being offered to me for over $300 – sixty times face value!
With this kind of lottery system, a lot of students who have no intention of going to the games are able to buy up a good portion of the available tickets. They will sell the ones to the big games (for example, Baylor this year) and then just ignore the tickets to the other games.
While no UK men’s basketball ticket lottery is going to please everyone, I must admit that the whole experience has been frustrating for me as a second-year UK student. And even more than that, I think the current lottery system is hurting the student section numbers, especially for early games. Students are buying tickets to games they have no intention of going to unless ESPN is filming it during primetime. Many true student fans are left to watch on television because they either were not chosen in the lottery or they can’t afford to pay the price students ask for for their tickets.
Not to mention UK students are just ready for the NCAA Tournament already. After an unforgettable experience in April, the students just want to skip the regular season and go straight to the confetti and trophies, leaving non-marquee game attendance figures to suffer.