UK Football

UK football home openers used to draw massive crowds. How will Cats do Saturday?

Kentucky defense looks ahead to EKU

After a standout performance last week at Southern Miss, Kentucky defensive coordinator Matt House talks about Eastern Kentucky, the Cats' opponent on Saturday.
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After a standout performance last week at Southern Miss, Kentucky defensive coordinator Matt House talks about Eastern Kentucky, the Cats' opponent on Saturday.

At last count Tuesday, more than 10,000 tickets remained available for Saturday’s home opener between Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky at Kroger Field.

With a stadium capacity of 61,000 since the 2015 renovation, that would make for one of the smallest opening day crowds at the former Commonwealth Stadium this century. This despite the Cats coming off their best season since 2010, finishing 7-6 and scoring a rousing win over archrival Louisville.

Guy Ramsey, UK athletics director of strategic communications, said Kentucky has seen a good response since its Tuesday announcement of 47,600 tickets allotted. Saturday is a Heroes Day promotion honoring all active and reserve members of the armed forces along with police, firefighters and first responders. While Ramsey said he could not predict a sellout, he did expect UK to close the gap when it announces its attendance Saturday.

Kentucky responded to a dramatic decline in attendance since 2009 by reducing stadium capacity by almost 7,000 seats when it renovated, but it still struggles to fill the upper corners many weeks. Those upper reaches were the bulk of the unsold tickets displayed by Ticketmaster.com on Thursday afternoon.

Fan disillusionment, parking pass complaints, a season ticket reconfiguration, HDTV and ticket and concession prices can all be blamed for the turnout decline in recent years. A look at attendance since 2000 shows a disturbing trend for UK, because up until recently, its football fans have been loyal and present to a fault.

Consider this: Since 2000, Kentucky has had 11 losing seasons out of 16. In every year but 2012 when Joker Phillips led the Cats to a 2-10 season, UK has averaged more than 50,000 fans per game. In 12 of those years, they’ve averaged more than 60,000 at home.

Phillips’ moribund 2012 was the low-water mark for home opener attendance when just 48,346 turned out to see UK play Kent State. That was the year most ticketholders just stayed home rather than watch Phillips’ team. Only 18,885 bothered to show up for that year’s Vandy game. Phillips was fired soon after.

Coming off a scandal-plagued 2-9 season, 70,838 people turned out in 2001 for Guy Morriss’s debut as UK coach against Louisville in the old stadium configuration listed at a capacity of 67,942. They saw a 36-10 beatdown. The Cats went 2-9 that year, as well.

Coming off another 2-9 season in Rich Brooks’ third year, 70,752 turned out for the 2005 Governor’s Cup showdown with Louisville and a 31-24 loss. The Cats went 3-8 that year.

Winning does help. In 2009, coming off an 8-5 season and bowl win, 70,988, one of the largest crowds in stadium history, saw Kentucky beat Louisville 31-27 (2007 against Florida is the record at 71,024) .

And while big crowds could certainly be expected to turn out for Louisville, the quality of the opponent in the home opener didn’t used to matter much either. In 2010, 66,584 came to see Western Kentucky. In 2008, 69,118 came to see Norfolk State. In 2007, 66,512 came to see this same Eastern Kentucky program. In 2006, 57,136 came to see Texas State.

But give recent fans some credit, two years ago after a 2-10 season, 62,933, the fourth largest crowd in the Mark Stoops era, came to see Louisiana Lafayette on the strength of a nice recruiting buzz and hope that the Cats were turning a corner.

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops said Thursday he hopes to give heralded freshman Lynn Bowden the opportunity to touch the football against Eastern Kentucky.

Junior college transfer Lonnie Johnson is talented. That's why Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops is going to demand more from the defensive back.

Attendance for UK home openers since 2000

Attendance

Date

Opponent

Prior year record

Prior week result

Result

Mark Stoops era

     

57,230

9/3/2016

Southern Mississippi

5-7

 

44-35 loss

62,933

9/5/2015

Louisiana-Lafayette

5-7

 

40-33 win

50,398-x

8/30/2014

Tennessee Martin

2-10

 

59-14 win

54,846

9/7/2013

Miami (Ohio)

2-10

lost to WKU in Nashville

41-7 win

Joker Phillips era

     

48,346

9/8/2012

Kent State

5-7

lost at Louisville

27-14 win

58,022

9/10/2011

Central Michigan

6-7

 

27-13 win

66,584

9/11/2010

Western Kentucky

7-6

won at Louisville

63-28 win

Rich Brooks era

     

70,988

9/19/2009

Louisville

7-6

won at Miami (Ohio)

31-27 win

69,118

9/6/2008

Norfolk State

8-5

won at Louisville

38-3 win

66,512

9/1/2007

Eastern Kentucky

8-5

 

51-10 win

57,136

9/9/2006

Texas State

3-8

lost at Louisville

41-7 win

70,752

9/4/2005

Louisville

2-9

 

24-31 loss

65,532

9/18/2004

Indiana

4-8

lost at Louisville

51-32 win

70,467

8/31/2003

Louisville

7-5

 

40-24 loss

Guy Morriss era

     

59,213

9/7/2002

Texas El Paso

2-9

won at Louisville

77-17 win

70,838

9/1/2001

Louisville

2-9

 

36-10 loss

Hal Mumme era

     

63,821

9/9/2000

South Florida

6-6

lost at Louisville

27-9 win

x-Stadium capacity reduced from 67,942 in 2013 to 62,093 in 2014 to 61,000 in 2015.

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