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What has happened to student section attendance at Rupp Arena?

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.

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24 comments

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  1. Jim

    Since the sidleines are saved for big money boosters, both end zones should be student sections. I don’t care how they pick the kids who go to the games. I was relegated to the nose bleed seats, when I was a student. I really didn’t care where I sat. It would be a better home advantage to have students in both end zones.

    1. larryvaught

      Ashley did a great job sharing insights on the students here for us. Why I love her perspectives. She’s one of the students and shares thoughts we otherwise would not have

      1. Jim

        I believe the bigger issue is having more access for students, closer to the court, than to prevent low student atendence at games that will be huge blow outs. When you schedule a chump team, you can not generate excitement from the student body.

        As for Ashley’s suggestion of rewarding those who attend other school funtions, I see it as a horrible idea. Students shouldn’t be blackmailed into attending other school functions. It is just not right.

        If there was a way to track if the students who received the basketball tickets actually used them at the turnstiles, that would be a sytem worth trying. I don’t see it happenning, unless the student can have his or her student ID scanned and attached to the ticket in a data base, and then it be shown if it was scanned at the turnstile. If it is not an automatic system, it would be too labor intensive to work. Then, if a student had a history of say two games of not redeeming tickets, they would be eliminated from the system.

        1. Ashley Scoby

          Jim, that’s an awesome idea too

  2. Kyle

    I think you see this across the board, students and non-students, fans have decided they are not showing up for less than marquee games. So much was made about the attendance in the football game against Vandy – like it was some kind of statement against Joker. To the contrary – I didn’t go because I had better entertainment options that weekend. As simple as that, unless there’s a good match-up then attendance will be less than capacity. The football situation makes the attendance drop much more extreme.

  3. Greg

    Typical kids these days. What have you done for me lately attitude. I guess the whole country is falling into this kind of thinking. Hence the reelection of the food stamp president.

    1. Larry Pup

      Right on Greg! You got it. Make some examples out of scalpers.

  4. lunchbox

    ive got to see 1 game, we made the 2 & half maybe 3hr trip from eastern ky to see billy g play cupcake U sitting way up in the nose bleed seats…hmm dont get these kids

  5. lunchbox

    it b nice to get to see uk play but it doesnt seem worth gettin online payin $200 a ticket for nose bleed seats…think i jus watch the tv

  6. Ashley Scoby

    lunchbox: My dad and I always did the same thing – we came to games against no-name opponents, even when the UK team wasn’t national-championship caliber. The experience of being in Rupp always beats watching on TV for me, no matter where I’m sitting or who they’re playing!

    1. D

      Those were the games I attended, too. My dad had season tickets, so when I was home from school. The holiday home games usually aren’t the good ones, but I was grateful for any opportunity to go to Rupp.
      Now that my dad has passed away, we no longer have season tickets. If I still lived in Lexington, I would gladly take a ticket anywhere in Rupp, from behind the bench to the top of the arena.

  7. UKFAN197TONE

    These students and some fans have to realize, UK CAN NOT play a TOP 10 home schedule every single year. SOME of those TOP 10 teams don’t want to play UK that early in the season and neither does UK. Especially UK, with this revolving door of a roster. New players learning to “play” college basketball with a Top 10 opponent is not good for their mental state. It’s not good for that crazy fan who thinks UK should go undefeated and win by 30 (I remember when it was 10) and last, it’s not good for the record.

    I live in NC and would love to attend a game in Rupp Arena. I was in the Marine Corps for almost 19 years and every time I had a chance to go to a game, something would come up. The only way I got to a football game (UK vs Bama) was because I was recovering from my 3rd ankle surgery.

    IF that E-Zone can’t be filled by students, I’m sure it can be filled by “regular fans”. Or can it?

  8. Kokamo Joe

    This year’s preconference home schedule is weak and it is likely to remain so. Calipari starts over ever year and he must get easy wins for two reasons: (1) he has to showcase his super stars and the best way to do that is to give them playing time and an easy team to dominate (2) even though these kids are super stars they have to learn to play together. What better way to do that than giving them cup cakes to dominate. Students get so accustomed to winning that it becomes commonplace, so they find something else to do. Adult fans, on the other hand, would gladly watch the Cats play the little sisters of the poor. In fact, watch your TV when the Cats go on the SEC road this year. Look at the Blue in the stands. Remember the “Go Big Blue” chants AT Florida at the end of last year’s season? If students get bored with who the Cats play then there are countless fans who will snap up the tickets.

    One thing is bothering though. Are not college sports supposed to at least partly for college kids?

  9. grant

    I know this , i have been to rupp a bunch of times and i have never seen a game from the lower section , it would be nice no matter who UK was playing. And maybe this is what in general terms Sean Woods is speaking to.

    1. steve

      Grant, I went on line this morning and bought 4 single tickets all in the lower arena from ticketmaster for the game Friday night. Two tickets were in section 17 rows L and N. Two other tickets are in the end zone but of those tickets are 13 rows from the floor. Single tickets aren’t the greatest as far as the wife is concerned but my nephews will be thrilled to set in the lower arena.

  10. Sporty

    Great article, Ashley! Keep up the good work.
    The diehard UK fans always suffer from the system when any team achieves significant success. Ticket acquisition becomes prohibitive, so the quality or quantity of fans will drop off a bit when it’s not a showcase game. Happened with 4 straight bowl games in football. The first year Joker took over, the fans that came to games were pretty obnoxious and unappreciative, hurling insults at the players and coaches DURING the South Carolina game from behind their own bench.
    Fact of life is that most people don’t handle success well. Instead of remembering the lean times and being appreciative of what they accomplished, supporting who they have now, they can only remember what it felt like to win and forget what it took to get there. Until the majority understands that, things won’t change anywhere. Great to see a person recognize and address these things publicly. I hope you never let go of that ability.

  11. UKFMLY

    Good job Ashley. Here is my take on that issue(not nearly as well written as your)

    I have been going to games for a long time and as far as I can remember most of those game in Rupp were and still are against the “pay to play teams”, we pay them to show up and take a whoppin. We have always played 7 or 8 home games against teams we new we could should beat. I also usually attend the games in December when the students are gone and the pep band is made up of mostly alumni.

    There are ususally notifications for the tickets the students did not pick up. I check the LH each day for those ticket opportunities. Are UK fans spoiled YES and we should be. But we (the BBN)should also take advantage of the fact that students are not picking up all of their allotted tickets drive up for a game and stay for the radio show. THERE IS NOTHING ON TV LIKE IT.

    My sister worked for the Rupp arena ticket office for the entire rp era as well as the first 5 years of Tubby’s tenure. Rupp would sale the tickets not picked up by students and I averaged at least 4 games a season. No matter how things change The Song Remains The Same (some of you will get that )!

    KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK GO BLUE AND BE THANKFUL YOU ARE ALIVE TO ENJOY BEING A MEMBER OF THE BBN

    1. Kokamo Joe

      Re: teams that prostitute themselve by taking the cash knowing that they will take a “whoppin”

      I am trying to think like the college kid that I once was and not as the adult that I am now. Here are this year’s preconference cupcakes which will be sure wins: Lafayette, Morehead, LIU Brooklyn, Samford, Portland, Lipscome, and Marshall. Kids know this and many will find something more exciting to do than watch a slaughter. It might be interesting to college kids if some of the seldom used subs get in on the kill, but unless Calipari changes his ways even that is not likely to happen. As I remember it, college life was more than basketball, even at UK. I expect that basketball means more to fans than it does to kids. Of course, kids might be more interested if the home schedule was more competetive

      So the kids stay away and adults rush to snap up the tickets not picked up. I suppose UK does not care since they make more money by selling the unused student tickets…but they should care.

  12. LindaS

    When I was standing in the freezing rain outside of Memorial I didn’t care who we played. I was there. If they can’t fill up the student section they should start giving them to senior citizens who can’t afford the tickets to see the games and I will finally admit I fall into that group.

    1. Kokamo Joe

      Linda:

      Ashley’s piece was about why UK students are taking a pass so far this year. Of course we adults would tramp through thigh deep snow to see UK play any body, good or bad. So let’s forget about what adults do and try to figure out why students are not showing up so far.

      I repeat a statement that I made earlier in this thread. Are not college sports suposed to be about college kids? Does not Calipari say often…it’s about the kids. Does he mean only his kids?

      When adults begin to take over the eruption zone something is wrong and I would hope that UK would try to figure it out.

    2. Larry Pup

      Amen Linda…if these spoiled brats would rather do something else than have the priveledge to watch UK basketball in some of the best seats in Rupp, then get their tickets in the hands of some other folk who would love to come and honor and support the wildcats for a decent ticket price. This is rediculous.

  13. coldspringmike

    Count me in Linda, I too fall into that group but I’ll make the hour drive south.

  14. LindaS

    Kiamo Joe, I know her story was about students not showing up for the games this year. I was saying when I was a student there you didn’t miss a game no matter who they played. It was Kentucky, be there or be square.
    I have always thought the prime audience should be the students, it is a university for the education of students, but if they don’t want their tickets, I’ll take them in a heartbeat.
    Glad some of the others understood what I was saying.

  15. LindaS

    Kokamo Joe, I know her story was about students not showing up for the games this year. I was saying when I was a student there you didn’t miss a game no matter who they played. It was Kentucky, be there or be square.
    I have always thought the prime audience should be the students, it is a university for the education of students, but if they don’t want their tickets, I’ll take them in a heartbeat.
    Glad some of the others understood what I was saying.

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