UK Football

Though disgruntled, UK football fans explain why they couldn’t cut their cord with the Cats

Kentucky football fans have suffered through six straight losing seasons.
Kentucky football fans have suffered through six straight losing seasons. Lexington Herald-Leader

Terry Hagan first contacted me last summer. He was hot under the collar.

Though he had been buying Kentucky Wildcats football tickets since the Cats played in Stoll Field, he vowed 2015 would be his final year.

In the shuffling of seats and parking passes last season that accompanied the renovation of Commonwealth Stadium, Hagan considered himself a loser. He felt ill-treated by the UK Athletics fund-raising arm, the K Fund, and believed that his purchasing of season football tickets since 1969 for a program whose product on the field had been spotty had been disrespected.

Last December, after Kentucky turned in a 5-7 season, Hagan, 71, was among longtime UK football fans I wrote about in a column who said they may have reached their tipping point and were through buying Wildcats season tickets.

He said then he “was tired of getting pushed around” by UK.

In June, when I did an update on some veteran Kentucky football backers and their deliberations on whether or not to renew their seats, Hagan was adamant. “I’m out,” he said.

So you can imagine my surprise last month when I returned from vacation and had a voice mail message from Hagan.

Sounding rather sheepish, he said he had just bought 2016 Kentucky Wildcats season football tickets.

“After 47 years (with Kentucky football season tickets), I couldn’t give ’em up,” Hagan subsequently explained. “I don’t know how else to say it, I love my Wildcats, love Kentucky football teams — even as bad as they have been.”

Being disgruntled but not being able to cut the cord with the Cats is a feeling Winchester’s Joe Waddell knows.

Waddell, 70, first bought UK football season tickets when Commonwealth Stadium opened in 1973.

Yet, after being banished from the lot where he and his family had long tailgated and seeing their eight tickets moved to the opposite side of the stadium during 2015’s renovation shuffle, he too was among those who said he may have finally been pushed too far.

In December, Waddell noted how much he was spending to attend games and said, “It’s pretty frustrating to see the product we’ve got on the field. I’m just not sure I’m going to get season tickets again.”

Last month, Waddell said he spent this winter running a cost/benefit analysis on attending UK football games.

“You add in what I am spending on tailgating, I probably am in for $4,000, $5,000 a year,” Waddell said. “What kind of media room could I build on my house if I re-directed that money? Those are the kinds of things you think about.”

Yet, when push came to shove, Waddell kept all eight of his UK season tickets and re-upped on his parking pass.

He says he kept his tickets because attending Kentucky football games is an important bonding experience he shares with his family.

“It’s the love of the game by my son, Nick,” he said. “He’s 34. ... He feeds me recruiting updates off the Internet, sort of keeps my fire burning. (UK games) are just something our family shares together, and has done so for a long time. And that’s hard to give up.”

Sometimes, there are issues with a clear right and wrong. More often, there are issues where both sides have right on their side. The tension between Kentucky football and its disgruntled, longtime season tickets holders are one of the latter.

For years, some hard-core UK football fans have questioned the university’s commitment to football. Yet when UK spent $120 million revamping Commonwealth Stadium, some of the things that made that investment possible — like the addition of new premium seating that led to many season-ticket holders having their seats moved — created a high degree of fan unrest.

It’s understandable why UK Athletics officials would be frustrated by that.

Conversely, longtime Kentucky football fans who have shown up season after season, decade after decade, while receiving limited payback in terms of wins for their financial and emotional investments, are not wrong to feel like their loyalty has not been properly rewarded.

After his year of disenchantment, Hagan’s solution to continuing as a UK season ticket holder for a 47th year was to buy two that were not accompanied by a mandatory “donation” to the K Fund.

“I just called over there and said ‘What’s the cheapest seats you have?’” Hagan said.

Ultimately, he says he’s paying $280 apiece for two upper-deck seats. He’s completely given up his parking pass.

“At the end of the day,” he says, “I just couldn’t walk away from the Cats.”

Turns out, there are ways for fans to maintain their passion for Kentucky Wildcats sports but also make a hard-headed consumer decision.