Despite record revenue pouring in from the Southeastern Conference this year, the University of Kentucky is asking fans to pay more to attend its men's basketball games in the 2010-11 season.
Prices will go up $7 per ticket, and donations to the K Fund for priority seating will increase from $1,350 to $5,000 for the best seats in the lower arena under a proposal approved Tuesday afternoon by the UK Athletics Association's Board of Directors.
The board approved the price increase about two months after the SEC announced that its member schools would split a record $209 million generated primarily from bowl revenue and the league's new television deals with ESPN and CBS. Those deals will bring more than $3 billion to the SEC over a 15-year period.
While the SEC revenue pool in 2009-10 represented a 57.7 percent increase from the previous year (and marked the 28th time in the last 30 years that the total was larger than the previous year), UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart noted that such increases do not automatically translate into larger amounts of disposable income for athletics departments. "It's never a straight-across-the-board kind of thing," he said.
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The ever-larger amounts of SEC money can offset rising costs, especially in tuition, medical care and travel, Barnhart said.
UK wants to use the expected $3.65 million generated by the basketball price increases toward creating a fund to pay for facility upgrades and new construction, Barnhart said. UK, which has the broadest athletics program in the SEC (22 sports), operates in a budget ranked seventh in the league, the school told board members.
"We certainly don't want to create burdens," Barnhart said in acknowledging how the price increase could hurt UK fans, especially in a troublesome economy. According to the latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, Kentucky ranked 47th among 50 states in per capita income in 2008.
"But at the same time, we've got to run our program and give ourselves the best opportunities to push forward," Barnhart said.
Among the facilities UK seeks to upgrade or create are an improved weight room and training room for football, a new room at Commonwealth Stadium to entertain recruits, and a new track and baseball stadium. It also hopes to work on the softball and soccer fields and the indoor tennis center.
UK has an "absolute need" for funding for capital projects, Barnhart said. "We don't need the best. But we have to have facilities that look like everybody else's (in the SEC).
Barnhart also used a living-conditions analogy when he said, "We don't have to have the greatest house in the neighborhood. We just have to live in the neighborhood."
UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. cited another reason for the price increases. The athletics department is self-sufficient to the point of donating $1.7 million annually to the school.
In addition to funding teams and upgrading facilities, the added revenue can "keep them out of the general fund," Todd said.
Added Barnhart: "We cannot be a burden to the university. ... The university has their own concerns. ... We have to make sure we can stand on our own two feet."
The single-game ticket-price increase will mean that upper-arena tickets that cost $28 last season will be $35 this season, and lower-arena seats that cost $33 last season will be $40. That increase would generate $850,000, UK said.
For the K Fund, a required annual donation for 8,140 priority seats, the costs will be as follows:
■ The 512 seats in the first four rows closest to the court that cost $1,350 last season will require a donation of $5,000 this season.
■ The 1,571 seats in center-court sections that were $1,100 will be $1,500.
■ The 942 seats near baselines that were $850 will be $1,000.
■ The 4,305 seats in end zones that were $600 will be $700.
■ The 812 seats in the first few rows of the upper arena that were $300 will be $400.
The board expects the K Fund increases to generate $2.8 million.
When asked about the more than tripling of the donation required for the best seats, Barnhart said the increase was "consistent with other places."
A chart handed out at the committee meeting showed that Duke charges $7,000 annually for its version of the K Fund.
The move Tuesday followed a vote in April to raise football ticket prices. Single-game tickets went up by $6. Season tickets went up $37, and contributions to the K Fund went up by $50 a seat.
A different hike
Todd saluted Barnhart's hike last week to the summit of Washington's Mount Rainier. Barnhart did the hike to help raise money for Lexington's Lighthouse Ministries, a charity that seeks to help people in crisis.
With the help of a guide who was a UK graduate, Barnhart reached Mount Rainier's peak at 14,411 feet, the highest elevation in the lower 48 states.
Nothing new on contracts
Barnhart said he had no new developments to report on negotiating new contracts for basketball coaches Matthew Mitchell and John Calipari.
Nor had the study into the feasibility of a new downtown arena neared a conclusion, he said. "We have to get to a spot because I'm ready to move on," Barnhart said of the arena study. "It is time for us to do something to give our programs a chance to succeed."