Ten days before the opener at Southern Miss on Sept. 2 and less than two weeks before the home opener Sept. 9 against Eastern Kentucky, UK has sold 33,533 season tickets for this season at Kroger Field.
That’s well below the athletics department’s stated goal of selling 40,000 tickets, a number it hasn’t reached since 2013, Mark Stoops’ first season as head coach. It is also below last year’s total of 33,658.
Even a “Yahtzee” promotion to sell season tickets has failed to catch fire. Mussatto reports that UK sold 648 season tickets over the last two weeks.
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Why the lag? After all, the Cats are fresh off their first winning season since 2009, their first bowl appearance since 2010. They return 17 starters. Shouldn’t the preseason optimism be reflected in ticket sales?
Here are my five reasons why the demand has not matched UK hopes:
1. UK football fans have grown more skeptical.
This is not the first time Kentucky football has entered a season with reasons to be optimistic. Yet the program’s history suggests more often than not those reasons collapse once the actual blocking and tackling begins. Since the league split into two divisions in 1992, only Kentucky and Vanderbilt have failed to win an SEC East title. (After leaving the Big 12 for the SEC in 2012, Missouri won two East titles in its first three years.) Kentucky hasn’t posted a winning SEC record since 1977. That’s 40 years.
There was a time when, despite the losing, a strong core of UK football fans would buy season tickets and show up at Commonwealth Stadium regardless of the outlook. Those days are over. Today’s fans are much more of a prove-it-to-me-first mindset.
2. There are too many other games to watch.
Before ESPN and the SEC Network and the Big Ten Network and Fox Sports 1 and the CBS Sports Network — we could go on — there were just a handful of college football games on television each weekend.
Now there are dozens. If one game is bad, you can switch to another. They start at noon, if not before, and stretch until the early hours of Sunday morning. They are all on your high-definition television, the one in front of your favorite chair, not far from your refrigerator.
3. The inevitable ticket price increases.
Everything is more expensive these days, and football tickets are no exception. K Fund donation requirements just to be able to have the right to buy tickets have increased over the years. Loge level seats require a $2,500 donation. Woodford Reserve Mezzanine Club require a $1,500 donation. Field Level Club is at $1,250. Mini-box seating is at $1,000. Chairback seats are $525. At least some benchback seats require a $100 K Fund donation.
While those premium seats are sold out, there has been a trickle-down effect on the average ticket buyer. For single-game tickets, the best seats for Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Michigan cost $65. Florida, Missouri and Ole Miss games cost $80. The best seat for Tennessee costs $90. The best seat for Louisville costs $95.
4. The donation required for parking passes.
Over the years, many UK fans have said they would give up their season tickets if they could just keep their parking passes. The food. The friends. The fellowship. The tailgating. That’s what made Kentucky football fun.
Last year, UK began requiring a K Fund donation in order to purchase a parking pass for the best lots. It’s the way of the world, of course. UK Athletics has its own financial commitments to meet. You wonder, however, what psychological effect the new charges have had on a fan base often supporting an often inferior product.
5. The re-ticketing that came with stadium renovation.
Overall, Commonwealth Stadium, I mean Kroger Field, is a much better facility since it was renovated prior to the 2015 season.
One complaint from fans, however, is the way UK decided to re-ticket the entire stadium after the renovation. In many cases fans were forced to give up seats they had been sitting in for years. Those same fans had grown fond of sitting with a certain group of people — making friends over the years — only to be forced to sit with a new group.
UK did attempt to provide a way for those groups to stay together, but the process was not the easiest. Groups had to apply at the same time in a coordinated effort that proved too difficult for many. Just anecdotally, I’ve encountered fans who found the process not worth the trouble or were unhappy with the new set-up and gave up their seats.
When explaining the drop in ticket sales, I think the re-ticketing effect has been underestimated.
Kentucky football 2017 schedule