Fans going to Saturday's Kentucky-Louisville football game with season tickets they've had for years should consider themselves lucky.
New buyers of season tickets for the best of the 67,942 seats in Commonwealth Stadium are being asked for thousands of dollars under a policy that UK initiated in 2008.
New buyers who want seats between the 20-yard lines in the lower stadium must pay a one-time donation to the University of Kentucky's Athletic K-Fund of $5,000 per seat.
Between the goal line and the 20-yard line in the lower stadium, the required donation is $2,500 per seat. There is no one-time charge for seats outside those two areas in the stadium.
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Those donations are in addition to the season ticket price of $235 per seat.
After the first-season donation, the annual fees for seats between the 20-yard lines range from $250 to $475 for each seat. For seats between the 20-yard line and the goal line, the fees are from $175 to $250. In the end zone, where there is no first-season donation requirement, it's a $50 per ticket annual fee.
"It's basically supply and demand," said Tony Neely, a spokesman for UK football. "There's tremendous interest in the UK football program."
He said the process is similar to what has been done for UK basketball and what is done at other Southeastern Conference schools.
Because most UK fans keep their tickets year after year, the 2008 policy affects only a small number of ticket holders who want first-time tickets or those who have tickets but want more seats.
In 2008, 40 seats sold at $2,500 per seat plus the cost of the game ticket and 30 at $5,000 a seat plus the ticket cost, according to Neely.
Season tickets for 2009 have been sold out since July 21.
There is a waiting list for sought-after seats for football and men's basketball, he said.
The one-time money goes into the K-Fund, which pays for scholarships, athletic facilities and coach and support staff salaries. The K-Fund stood at $11.85 million in the 2009-2010 budget.
In 2002, the Blue & White Fund became the K-Fund. It was created to keep up with the rising cost of athletes' tuition and to help UK maintain a competitive advantage against other SEC and NCAA schools, officials say.
"If UK or any other school is trying to protect their revenue stream, one place they look is ticket sales," said Dan Fulks, a Transylvania University accounting professor who is a consultant to the NCAA on athletics finances. "I think, for the average person in the state, they think UK football is pretty successful because they've been to three bowl games in a row. There's been an increase in the demand."
There has been a similar policy for new ticket buyers in Rupp Arena, the home of UK's men's basketball program, since 2001. There, new ticket holders pay a one-time fee ranging from $25,000 for the first six rows of the upper arena to between $100,000 and $500,000 for lower arena sideline seats, depending on location. The payments can be made over a period of years.
Like UK, the other 11 schools in the SEC require minimum donations in order to purchase season tickets, but they aren't one-time payments.
Overall, fans at other schools are paying more annually for the best football seats.
Each university's payment structure is different.
■ At Vanderbilt, ticket holders must pay an annual $1,000 fee for the best seats.
■ At Florida, a fan must make an annual contribution of $14,000 to get seats between the 20s.
■ At South Carolina, season-ticket holders pay a $3,300 annual donation to the Gamecock Club for seats between the 20-yard lines in addition to a $200 to $395 per seat donation and the $320 season ticket price.
Most SEC schools also have higher season ticket prices than UK. Kentucky has traditionally offered fans more seats that don't require an annual fee than other schools in the SEC, according to information in the 2008-2009 budget presentation to the UK Athletics board.
'A working guy'
At least one fan was shocked to find out about UK's annual donation requirement.
James Lee of Winchester, who owns a small cleaning company, said that in 2007, he purchased a single season ticket seat on the 25-yard line, row 2, for $320.
He didn't buy tickets in 2008 because money was tight. When Lee tried to renew his tickets in May 2009, he said, officials in the ticket office told him that he was considered a new ticket holder and would have to pay the $5,000 fee.
Lee said at the time that UK's policy was unfair "to a working guy like me who makes $39,000 a year."
After the Herald-Leader called the UK Athletics Department to inquire about Lee's situation, Neely said that because Lee was just looking for a single seat and not a pair, he would be offered his old seat for $420.
There are also single-game tickets available. Their costs range from $35 to $70, depending on the game. The number available varies, depending on how many student and visitor tickets are sold.
There are also 10,130 seats in the stadium that are called public season tickets, meaning they don't require any annual fee.
Perhaps the luckiest fans are UK students, who pay $5 for a ticket to each game.
Despite the high fees for new tickets, some people are deciding to take the good seats and pay the price.
UK officials tell fans up front that the bigger the donation, the better the seats. The K-Fund Web site says: "The goal of the K-Fund point system is to ensure that those who are most supportive of Kentucky Athletics get the best seats at UK Athletic events."
"It's unfortunate for the fan," said Fulks. "But if the demand is there, UK can do it."