UK Football

Report: Declining attendance not just a Kentucky football problem

The Kentucky Wildcats took the field for their game against Louisville at Kroger Field on Nov. 25, 2017. Louisville beat Kentucky 44-17 in front of the smallest announced crowd to witness the rivalry in Lexington, 56,186. Kroger Field’s capacity is listed at 61,000.
The Kentucky Wildcats took the field for their game against Louisville at Kroger Field on Nov. 25, 2017. Louisville beat Kentucky 44-17 in front of the smallest announced crowd to witness the rivalry in Lexington, 56,186. Kroger Field’s capacity is listed at 61,000. aslitz@herald-leader.com

There has been a lot made of the decline in tickets sold for Kentucky football’s season opener Saturday and season ticket sales overall, but a report by the Wall Street Journal published Thursday indicates the decline is a troubling trend throughout the sport.

The Journal report focused on what college football programs might be trying to gloss over — the dramatic decline in seats actually filled at games. While announced attendance figures can often make it seem like stadiums are near capacity, ticket-scan figures tell a different story.

While the Journal’s review of public school football programs showed announced attendance down by 3.2 percent, it also showed that schools on average only really have about 71 percent of those announced fans actually in the stands.

The difference comes between what the school announces for its box score as the official attendance and the records it keeps for actual tickets scanned, which the Journal obtained through open records requests for public programs that are required to keep those statistics.

At Kentucky, the difference was near the average with 294,361 fans actually in attendance for an announced crowd of 395,276 in 2017, or about 74 percent, with 100,915 ticket holders staying home or unaccounted for.

But even Alabama, college football’s perennial No. 1 team and 17-time national champion, has not been immune. According to the Journal survey, only 546,488 of its announced 712,053 had their tickets scanned in 2017, about 77 percent of capacity. Alabama recently announced major renovations and new premium seating areas at both its football and basketball venues.

Other Division I college football programs mirrored the nationwide trend as well. A searchable database of each public school reviewed accompanies the Journal story.

  • Louisville: 276,957 announced/202,707 scanned;

  • Western Kentucky: 94,234 announced\89,635 scanned.

A number of factors can be pointed to for the decline in seats sold and seats sat in, including ticket, concession and parking prices, required premium seat “contributions,” plain inconvenience and the explosion of TV contracts that put most fans’ favorite teams in their homes on giant, high-definition screens with cheaper food and beer.

At last report, UK had sold or distributed just more than 40,000 tickets for its first game at Kroger Field against Central Michigan. That’s a dramatic decline from last season’s announced home opening crowd of 54,868.

Read the full report on wsj.com.

The college football opener Saturday, Sept. 1 at Kroger Field features two excellent running backs in Central Michigan’s Jonathan Ward and Kentucky’s Benny Snell. Ward said he had never heard of Snell. After Tuesday’s practice, Snell responded.

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