Op-Ed

As UK greed rises, ticket-buying fans decline

A fan got his Kentucky hat autographed by several UK football players and coaches at fan day earlier this month.
A fan got his Kentucky hat autographed by several UK football players and coaches at fan day earlier this month. aslitz@herald-leader.com

After reading sportswriter John Clay’s column, “Five reasons Kentucky football ticket sales haven’t matched hopes,” about the current lull in season tickets for University of Kentucky football, I felt a slight twinge of frustration.

Maybe it is because he pointed out that not once in my lifetime has UK achieved a winning record in the Southeastern Conference. It could be that I started to reminisce about my days attending UK and the fun had by my dad and I while tailgating and attending noon games, only to see rare glimpses of impressive football.

Clay’s column offers a handful of fundamental reasons for the underbelly of resentment found in the program’s recent changes.

UK’s football program has not earned the right to hike prices. Fans do not live in the small Iowa town of “if you build it, they will come” fantasy. Kentucky’s followers are a patient bunch. We are happy with an occasional signature win (which occurred against Louisville last season) to sustain our appetite for a respectable program.

We reset our expectations every year as the looming letdown creeps in, season after season.

The administration has, in fact, put the cart before the haggard horse. It essentially embarked on an alarming business model of putting beautiful brick and mortar up and just crossing fingers that the product pans out. This practice rarely ends in success or prosperity.

In the process of renovation, the university altered several elements that contributed to enjoying a Kentucky football game. The section shakeup was frustrating, but was nothing compared to the parking debacle that seems to test fans commitment every year. Compounding these issues is kowtowing to TV dollars and making their loyal fans endure late games the majority of the year.

Kentucky football is entertainment, the same as a good episode of “Game of Thrones.” Saturday nights provide welcome thrill, prompting the pondering of how things might twist and turn during the short season. Ultimately, for Kentucky fans though, life rolls on after a win or, more common, a loss.

The program pines for the dedicated lifeblood seen in programs such as Alabama or Ohio State, but it simply has not reached that echelon. Giving Commonwealth Stadium (I refuse to refer to it as “Kroger Field”) a facelift does not change the staggering hill the program faces in the “W” column. Fans will not accept paying more for the same experience packaged as Kentucky football 2.0.

Season-ticket holder numbers will continue to decline as the greed of the university escalates. Fans will have moments of excitement and elation periodically through the unforeseeable seasons to come. We will continue to celebrate recruits and the potential they will bring to Kentucky. Our heads will be held high knowing that the program is being run the right way and scandal and violations are kept at bay.

There will be gained momentum and lost opportunities by missed touchdowns or first downs. Fans will ride the wave but ultimately decide that their entertainment budget has been fleeced for the last time.

I support giving our coaching staff the resources they need to recruit the best talent in the country and entice young men to play for the Wildcats. I also believe that the moment you ask more of your fans by going deeper into their pockets and putting their inconveniences aside, a severe side effect is created, one that makes the window for results exponentially smaller.

Kentuckians will always love their football and hope for the best, but do not expect the casual fan to keep betting on a losing horse. Until Kentucky triumphantly walks off the field of battle against the likes of Florida and Tennessee, the rusty lock will be securely fastened on that dreaded cellar door.

Jim Jackson of Frankfort is a freelance writer.

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