For the second time in three years, the University of Kentucky will increase basketball ticket prices and the K Fund donation required to buy many of the best seats in Rupp Arena.
The latest price hike, which UK athletic officials unveiled Tuesday to the department's new governing body, the Board of Trustees Athletics Committee, means fans must pay $5 more per seat per game in a season-ticket package. For single-game tickets, the price rises to $42, from $35, for an upper-level seat and to $50, from $40, for a lower-level seat.
The required K Fund donation will increase for 6,689 of the 7,081 priority seats in Rupp Arena. Those increases will range from $50 to $400 a seat.
Prices for student tickets will not change.
Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart cited several reasons for another price increase: the rising cost of tuition, higher travel expenses as the Southeastern Conference expands to Missouri and Texas A&M, and richer coaching salaries.
"We want to make sure we use the Kentucky brand effectively," Barnhart said of the recent salary increases for coaches. "In order to do that, you have to have good coaches."
In stark contrast to the increase of two years ago, fans in the first four rows along the Rupp Arena sideline will not bear the brunt of what UK prefers to call a ticket price "adjustment." In 2010, the required K Fund donation rose from $1,350 to $5,000 a seat for those four rows. This time, there will be no increase in the K Fund donation for the first four rows, which have 392 seats .
"Those people really helped us" in 2010, Barnhart said. "They stepped up. ... They've been great supporters of ours, and we wanted to acknowledge that effort."
One of those fans, Lexington lawyer Fred Peters, was grateful that UK did not increase his required K Fund donation again.
"I'm very thankful," he said before adding, "I wish there was a little more parity between us (in the first four rows) and the people right behind us."
Fans in rows 5 and up in Sections 13 to 15 and 30 to 32 will see their required K Fund donation increase $400 a seat, to $1,900.
Other increases in the K Fund donation are $250, to $1,250, for sections 12, 16 and 29; $150, to $850, for sections 11, 17 to 28 and 37 to 44; and $50, to $450, for rows A-G in upper-level sections 212, 213, 215 and 230.
Spokesman DeWayne Peevy said UK expects the increases in ticket prices and K Fund donations to generate an additional $3.5 million.
Barnhart acknowledged that the increases could be considered ill-timed considering how Kentucky Coach John Calipari refused earlier this year to extend the series with Indiana on a home-and-home basis. That removed a potential game between top-five opponents from UK's home schedule in 2012-13.
"I understand," Barnhart said of any potential fan dissatisfaction. "There are some of those pieces that are difficult to reconcile."
He pledged UK would have "highly competitive games" in Rupp Arena while noting that there could be "anomalies" when the Cats do not play a marquee opponent during the non-conference home schedule.
On the plus side, an expanded SEC means nine rather than eight conference games at home, said Barnhart, who expressed the hope that over time fans would approve Kentucky's home schedules by saying, "'Yeah, we get it.'"
As in 2010, the greater cost to attend Kentucky home basketball games comes as revenue generated by the Southeastern Conference reaches record amounts. At its annual spring meeting last month, the SEC announced it would distribute $241.5 million to its 12 member schools as part of its revenue-sharing plan. That represented a 9.8 percent increase from 2010-11.
Despite such abundance, UK fans must pay more, in part because the athletic department has a limited capacity to issue bonds to pay for new facilities or major upgrades, Barnhart said. "All of our facility projects are done out of our cash flow," he said.
Barnhart estimated that UK had spent $75 million to $77 million on facility projects during his 10 years at the school.
A recent analysis showed season ticket holders in Rupp Arena spent an average of $728 a seat to see UK play at home last season. Season ticket holders had to contribute between $400 and $5,000 a seat to the K Fund.
The average season ticket holder spent more than $12,000 on tickets and K Fund donations this year. That amount included multiple tickets.
Since 2009, an upper-level single-game seat has increased in cost from $28 to $42, and lower-arena seat have gone from $33 to $50.
During that time, the required K Fund donation has increased by as much as $3,650 a seat (first four rows) and by no less than $150 (first few rows of designated upper-level sections).
UK fans should expect more of the same.
"In basketball, we'll always look at that every year," Barnhart said of ticket prices, "(or) every other year."