UK Men's Basketball

Extreme ticket prices a badge of honor for fans in Bahamas. ‘It’s Kentucky.’

Kentucky player Jemarl Baker paused for a photo with UK fans during the Wildcats’ open practice in the Bahamas on Tuesday. Coach John Calipari seemed to encourage fan-player interaction in the intimate surroundings at the Atlantis Resort.
Kentucky player Jemarl Baker paused for a photo with UK fans during the Wildcats’ open practice in the Bahamas on Tuesday. Coach John Calipari seemed to encourage fan-player interaction in the intimate surroundings at the Atlantis Resort. UK Athletics

The University of Kentucky charged fans who came to the Bahamas $100 for a single-game ticket. Fans were required to buy tickets for all four games, so that was $400 per fan. And no discount for children nor students.

If you think that’s too much to pay, you’re probably not a sufficiently rabid UK fan.

When asked how they felt about paying this price, several fans saw a benefit in digging deep for tickets.

“If you didn’t charge $100, there’s no big enough arena to put all the Kentucky fans who would have come down here,” Marsha Herrick of Louisville said. “I mean, if you look at the number of people who are already here at $100 a pop, I can’t imagine if it was $25 or $30 or $50 even. It wouldn’t have been this same ambiance.”

For perspective, North Carolina did not charge its fans to attend games on its last foreign trip, spokesman Steve Kirschner said in an email. Kansas spokesman Chris Theisen said Jayhawks fans were not charged for tickets on trips to Italy in 2017 and Switzerland/France in 2012.

For a trip to Canada later this month, Duke fans could buy tickets in the price range of $22 to $58 Canadian, according to the school’s website.

This gave Marsha’s husband, Kenny Herrick, pause. “Hmm,” he said of UK’s pricing. “Well, it’s too high then.”

But rather than being taken aback by learning how rivals offered free admission, UK fans saw validation in paying $100 for a ticket.

“It doesn’t shock me,” said Jessica Fields, a UK graduate (class of 2000) who lives in Murray. “Kentucky fans are the greatest.”

Her husband, David Fields, agreed. “It’s Kentucky,” he said. “Kentucky thinks they’re special. I think they feed off it.”

UK fans seemed to take pride in paying $100 for a ticket. The sentiment was: If Kansas, North Carolina or Duke were to charge $100, Kentucky fans would want to pay $200.

“That’s exactly what it is,” David Fields said. “We can puff our chests out and say, ‘Hey, we saw them in the Bahamas.’”

A neutral observer might point out that these were just exhibition games that don’t count.

“We don’t care about that,” Jessica Fields said. “It’s getting to know the players.”

UK fans in the Bahamas took in an open practice at the Atlantis Resort last week. UK sold about 850 four-game ticket packages to fans. The proceeds helped offset the cost of bringing in quality teams to compete with the Cats, which ultimately led to the SEC Network televising the games, a UK official said. Chet White Chet White

The Imperial Ballroom at the Atlantis resort oozed let’s-get-acquainted. Only eight rows of folding chairs on risers surrounded the court. And UK Coach John Calipari seemed to encourage player-fan interaction.

The Fields paid $2,000 for tickets. One for father, one for mother and one each for 11-year-old Brooklyn and 5-year-old twins Brody and Britney.

“That’s a lot of money,” Jessica said. “We won’t be doing it every year. But it’s a small price to pay for the experience in this environment.”

It was the children’s first time attending a UK game. “We put it on our bucket list,” David said. “Something our kids wouldn’t forget.”

Matt Abney, who grew up in Louisville and now works as a fund raiser for the University of Alabama, noted how the Atlantis resort is not for bargain hunters.

“In this environment, it’s par for the course,” he said of the $100 price for a ticket.

David Fields explained the ticket price as reflecting “obviously, supply and demand. And the demand is there. It’s pricy, but this is why we work.”

UK Deputy Director of Athletics DeWayne Peevy said the “regular dynamics” of ticket pricing led to the $100 figure.

To stage the games in the Bahamas, UK paid $10,000 to a company that set up the event, Peevy said. UK also covered travel, lodging and meals for the teams from Canada, Argentina and Serbia.

And, Peevy added, 36 donors helped defray costs by paying $6,000 each to travel with the team. Some also made further donations, he said.

UK sold about 850 four-game ticket packages to fans, Peevy said.

UK reaped benefits from the fans’ rabid interest. The more tickets that were sold allowed UK to cast a wider net for opponents, Peevy said. Fewer tickets sold might have meant more games against teams from the Bahamas, who would not require UK to pay for housing, travel or food.

The fan interest, and the accompanying ability to pay for better opponents, helped UK sell the SEC Network on televising the games, Peevy said.

“It was easy to go to television and say, ‘Hey, this is going to be a big event,’” Peevy said.

Peevy also suggested that the $100 tickets enable UK fans to contribute to the ultimate victory.

Tyler Herro has struck up a friendship with ex-Cats star Rex Chapman. Herro’s play in his UK debut Wednesday drew comparisons to Chapman.

“This is their small part of playing a small role in trying to get us back to a Final Four and winning a ninth national championship,” he said.

As for UK fans seeming to take pride in paying $100 for a ticket, Peevy noted that he is a rabid fan of the Dallas Cowboys.

“I understand there’s a prove-your-fandom element, too,” he said.

Marsha Herrick pointed out that not all Kentucky fans can afford to prove their fandom this way.

“We won’t be going on vacation for another 10 years, now,” she said.

Alternate reality

Kentucky distributed more than 20 media credentials and had close to 1,000 fans for its games in the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. At the same time, Notre Dame lived and played in an alternate reality.

The Fighting Irish played three exhibitions in Nassau’s Kendall Isaacs Gym, which is the equivalent of a high school gym. UK played its exhibitions there on the 2014 trip to the Bahamas.

There was no television coverage nor even a radio broadcast by the crew that normally calls Notre Dame games. There was no media. And except for the family of assistant coach Ryan Humphrey, no Notre Dame fans were expected to attend the games.

Rupp auction

This coming week brings another chance to own a piece of Rupp Arena memorabilia. The Lexington Center Corp. is holding an auction at 10 a.m. Friday. The auction will be under the Jefferson Street bridge on the back side of the arena.

Items up for auction include office furniture, light fixtures, concourse signage, a 20-foot Christmas tree and a snow salt dispenser. Rupp officials hope to display the items under the Jefferson Street bridge beginning Monday.

If this sounds like a rummage sale, that’s about what it is. As LCC President and CEO Bill Owen said in a news release, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

The stars of this auction might be the dozen or so 4-feet-by-8-feet sections of the original court used for Kentucky home games from 1976 until 2000.

The star of the last such auction was the sound system’s large complex of horns affectionately known as “Big Bertha.” She might be part of this auction.

“We did keep a few horns from Bertha,” Owen said in a follow-up phone call. “I guess I had separation anxiety, and didn’t want to get rid of her all together. I’ve since re-thought that and I’m thinking of putting the remaining horns (in the auction).”

Owen said he’s also spoken to the Lexington History Museum to see if there’s interest in having the horns.

When asked where the money raised by the auction will go, Owen chuckled and said, “We’re doing close to a $300 million expansion of the convention center. We’ve got lots of places we can use the money.”

Fantasy camp

John Calipari’s three-day Basketball Fantasy Camp began Friday at the Atlantis resort.

The camp, which requires an entry fee of $7,495, drew 62 participants. That included 48 players and 14 “assistant coaches” (read: people who thought playing might be too much of a fantasy).

Those actually coaching the would-be Walter Mittys included UConn women’s coach Geno Auriemma, Jerry Wainwright, UK special assistant John Robic and a trio of ESPN analysts: Dan Dakich, Fran Fraschilla and Seth Greenberg.

Battle 4 Atlantis

For UK fans who want to return to the Bahamas ASAP, the annual Battle 4 Atlantis tournament will be played Nov. 21-23.

Of course, Kentucky will not be participating. The teams competing will be Florida, Wisconsin, Virginia, Butler, Dayton, Stanford, Oklahoma and Middle Tennessee.

Birth announcement

Besides seven hotels holding a total of 3,805 rooms, Atlantis has a 141-acre water park, 11 pools, a beach, a casino, a comedy club, a movie theater, restaurants, sundries, shopping, a “Relaxing Reptile” exhibit and an aquarium.

UK fan Matt Abney offered an apt description of this sensory overload.

“Disney World and Las Vegas had a baby,” he said.

Happy birthday

To Randy Embry. He turned 75 on Thursday. ... To Hall of Famer Bob Cousy. He turned 90 on Thursday. ... To Sacha Killeya-Jones. He turned 20 on Friday. ... To UK assistant coach Tony Barbee. He turned 47 on Friday. ... To UK special assistant John Robic. He turned 55 on Friday. ... To Jason Parker. He turned 38 on Friday. ... To Kevin Knox. He turned 19 on Saturday. ... To Jim LeMaster. He turns 72 on Sunday (today). ... To Antoine Walker. He turns 42 on Sunday (today). ... To Gerald Fitch. He turns 36 on Sunday (today). ... To DeMarcus Cousins. He turns 28 on Monday. ... To Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson. He turns 59 on Tuesday. ... To Terry Mills. He turns 70 on Wednesday. ... To Ryan Hogan. He turns 40 on Wednesday.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader