Luxury boxes are not a magic pill sure to wildly increase revenues. Therefore, such suites should not be assumed to be a dominant part of either a renovation of Rupp Arena or the construction of a new arena in downtown Lexington.
That's what Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and University of Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart heard on a fact-finding trip to Columbus, Ohio, earlier this month.
Gray and Barnhart led a group of Lexingtonians to Columbus to learn about that city's Nationwide Arena and, more important, its Arena District. The latter is the area of free enterprise built around the arena. It includes apartments, condos, office buildings, restaurants, bars, an 11-screen movie complex, a 10,000-seat baseball stadium for the Columbus Clippers minor-league baseball team, a 2.5-acre park and a 2,200-seat indoor pavilion that can convert to a 4,500-seat outdoor amphitheater.
While a new or renovated home for UK basketball has dominated talk in Lexington, the subcommittee of the mayor's large task force spent much more time in the area around Nationwide Arena on its day-trip to Columbus. That speaks to the perceived priority of a similar district surrounding an arena in Lexington.
"Most of the time, we were walking through the district, discussing how we got all that done and the city's involvement," said Keith Meyers, a city planner who spearheaded Columbus' Arena District.
The time devoted to the district as opposed to simply the arena has to do, in part, with having to cover the district's 75 acres of development.
But while in Nationwide Arena, Gray and Barnhart heard about the luxury boxes failing to meet expectations for the major tenant, the National Hockey League's Columbus Blue Jackets.
The hockey team's losing record the last two seasons (and four of the last five) surely affected the revenue generated by the luxury boxes.
Scott Ralston, one of the architects who designed Nationwide Arena, said luxury boxes were a trendy addition to stadiums and arenas in the 1980s and 1990s. Now, planners try to create a variety of options to give fans something more than a seat at the games. Hence, the Blue Jackets asked for 88 luxury boxes and got talked down to 52, Ralston said.
Among the options are what might be termed super-luxury boxes. Ralston spoke of knocking down walls and converting eight luxury boxes into one big lounge he said had a "country club environment."
Then there's club seating, terrace seating, loge boxes.
"What is the right mix" for a particular arena and its fans, Ralston said of the options in luxury boxes. "Some are still just dreams. ... You have some crazy people who have the money. If you give them the opportunity, they'd write a million-dollar check every year to have that opportunity."
Arena planners ponder seats near courtside that include entrance to a glassed-off area next to locker rooms where fans peer into halftime scenes. Ralston noted how another NHL team, the Edmonton Oilers, has a River Cree Club. Players must walk through the club going from the ice to the locker room and vice versa between periods.
Bill Rhoda, a partner in the consulting firm CSL International, said fans want a "touchy-feely experience." And, of course, fans are willing to pay for it.
Alas, Rupp Arena was built on the quaint notion that fans wanted to watch UK teams play basketball.
If Gray, Barnhart and company envision a renovated Rupp Arena or a new arena serving the need for interaction, no one tipped his hand.
"It never came up," Meyers said when asked the renovation-versus-construction question. "We primarily talked about the district itself."
Creed Black, who died Tuesday at age 86, was publisher of the Herald-Leader when the newspaper published its Pulitzer Prize-winning series on UK basketball in 1985. This was not coincidental.
Black had been a newspaperman since his teenage years. He edited his high school paper and, at age 17, became a part-time reporter for his hometown paper, The Paducah Sun-Democrat.
By the time he came to Lexington in 1977, Black had worked as a news executive for The News-Journal in Wilmington, Del. (where he resigned in protest when the owner hired a public relations executive from the Wilmington-based DuPont Company to, ahem, manage the news). He also had worked for The Tennessean in Nashville, The Savannah (Ga.) Morning News, The Chicago Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Black had also served as an assistant secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in the first 18 months of the Nixon administration.
Suffice to say, he appreciated UK basketball but was not intimidated by it nor reverential. He gave the OK to look into how UK basketball operated inside and outside the rules.
When asked to recall Black as publisher, John Carroll (then the paper's editor) wrote in an email, "Creed was tough as nails. He never wavered during the period of the boycotts, the anti-Herald-Leader rally, the bomb threat that forced us to empty the building, and all the other unpleasantness."
In response to the uproar, Black wrote a column. He noted how predictable the protests were, given the fervent interest in UK basketball.
"As a Kentuckian who cares about the future of this state and its young people, however, I am saddened if not surprised," he wrote. "For what this uproar reflects is, in my judgment, a badly warped sense of values and priorities. ...
"Do the people who are blowing fuses over UK athletics give a damn about UK academics? My impression, I regret to say, is that many of them don't."
Black ended the column on a hopeful note.
"I'd like to hope — and we've had enough calls and mail to encourage such hope — that among our readers are some cooler heads who believe there are more important things than basketball in this world," he wrote, "and even right here in Kentucky."
Black continued the effort to bring perspective to college athletics by serving as president of the Knight Foundation from 1988 to 1998.
"Another thing about Creed that's worth mentioning but has nothing to do with sports," Carroll wrote. "He was a transformational publisher. During his years as publisher of the H-L, it built the new building, modernized every department, closed the evening edition (the Leader) and built up the morning-only paper, and was extremely prosperous."
Cal = sales
Kentucky ranks No. 7 nationally in the latest standings of schools that sell the most athletics merchandise.
The Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), a division of IMG Worldwide, announced Wednesday its annual list of top-selling institutions and manufacturers. These rankings represent royalties reported from July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2011, on all collegiate merchandise sold on behalf of CLC-represented institutions.
Texas led the way for a sixth straight year. Rounding out the top five were Alabama, Florida, Auburn and Michigan.
Georgia was sixth followed by UK, North Carolina, Louisiana State and Penn State.
So SEC schools made up six of the top nine and nine of the top 21. Only Mississippi State failed to reach the top 75.
The No. 7 ranking enabled Kentucky to equal its best standing in the last 10 years. UK also ranked No. 7 in 2009-10.
Detect a pattern here? As basketball goes, so goes Kentucky. John Calipari's revival of UK basketball coincided with the best sales of products.
Sales dipped in each of the last five seasons with Tubby Smith as coach (from No. 9 to No. 16), rallied modestly with Billy Gillispie as coach (Nos. 15 and 13), then took off under Calipari.
Any marketing campaigns by Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, who inherited a No. 9 ranking from 2001-02, did not seem to affect sales as much as basketball victory or defeat.
By the way, the CLC estimated the retail marketplace for college licensed merchandise in 2010 at $4.3 billion.
Uneven playing field
The release of the SEC schedule last week proved again that it's good to be Kentucky and not as good to be any other league team. Or as C.M. Newton observed many years ago: the NCAA might strive for a level playing field, but there's no such thing.
A quarter of UK's 16-game league schedule will be played against opponents who will have played another game less than 48 hours earlier. Alabama, one of the favorites to win the league, will play another favorite, Vanderbilt, in Tuscaloosa on Thursday night, Jan. 19. Then the Tide must tip off at Kentucky at noon on Saturday.
Five teams — Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Mississippi and Tennessee — do not get even one league opponent that had to play a game two days earlier. Vandy, Georgia and Alabama get one each.
Oh, and on Feb. 7, Kentucky gets a Florida team that will be playing its third game in six days. Florida along with Mississippi State and Arkansas are the only league teams that must endure a stretch of three games in six days.
So no surprise that Kentucky Coach John Calipari's Twitter response to the schedule was, "I love being at UK & part of the SEC. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive has done an unbelievable job putting together our TV package w/ ESPN & CBS."
The SEC acknowledged how the league tried to ease the inequity created by the television contract with ESPN.
"The first year of the contract with ESPN in 2010, we played as many as two games on Thursday," spokesman Craig Pinkerton wrote in an email. "Because of the difficult turnaround in playing Thursday-Saturday, we moved one of those games to Tuesday. This move actually worked out well for us in both scheduling and television as we now have a 7 p.m. ET game on ESPNU to lead into the 9 p.m. ESPN Super Tuesday matchup."
The SEC wanted to give each of the 12 teams a Thursday night game. That proved unworkable, so Auburn and LSU do not play on Thursday. Kentucky plays on Thursday, March 1, against visiting Georgia. But the Cats avoid the two-games-in-three-days chore by playing next on Sunday, March 4, at Florida in the CBS annual capper to the regular season.
Pinkerton noted that only Ole Miss has to do the Thursday-Saturday swing more than twice this coming season.
In the three seasons of the SEC contract with ESPN, Kentucky will have played once on a Thursday and Saturday of the same week. In that same span, the Cats will have played 11 opponents who had a game two nights earlier.
Here's how the SEC teams compare over the three seasons in number of Thursday-Saturday games and number of opponents playing a second time in 48 hours: Alabama 5-5; Arkansas 3-6; Auburn 5-3; Florida 7-3; Georgia 3-5; Kentucky 1-11; LSU 2-1; Ole Miss 7-4; Mississippi State 6-6; South Carolina 3-5; Tennessee 4-1; Vanderbilt 5-1.
After being traded from Houston to Philadelphia, outfielder Hunter Pence saluted the Phillies' fans. See whether his words remind you of the college basketball fans whose attendance for two exhibitions last week surpassed 40,000.
"They're involved," Pence said of Phillies fans in an interview with The New York Times. "That's everything you want your fans to be, is to be involved and to care."
Of the 40,000-plus who attended the exhibitions, John Calipari said, "Only at the University of Kentucky could that happen."
To former Indiana guard Quinn Buckner. The point guard on college basketball's last unbeaten team (1975-76) turned 57 on Saturday.
To former Mississippi State coach Richard Williams. He turns 66 on Monday.
To former UK guard Todd Tackett. He turns 32 on Monday.
To former UK guard Jodie Meeks. He turns 24 Sunday.