Kentucky men’s basketball most recent nail-btting win over the University of Vermont was less about the team’s underwhelming performance and more about the nearly-empty student section. Through the first three exhibition games and the two regular season games, the eRUPPtion Zone has been sparse. Many have been quick to blame students and cite their lack of enthusiasm as the driving reason behind the small crowds. As someone who has been a student at the University of Kentucky for four years now and attends several games a year as a member of the student section, I can firmly state that the reasoning goes far beyond students simply not wanting to support the team.
Ticket price increase
To start, the University raising ticket prices from $5 per game to $10 has had a huge effect. What seemed like a small spike initially has become one of the main reasons as to why students are hesitant to pay for tickets. The cost of tuition to attend the University is close to $10,000 and a lot of students have no choice but to dig themselves into debt just to obtain an education. Now, instead of paying $20 for a four-game lottery package, students must pay $40. For students who are already knee-deep in student loans, adding an extra $20 on top of the price is a financial decision they have to make. And not surprisingly, students are choosing to keep that money. Kentucky’s thought process was that if they charged more the games, students would be more inclined to attend them rather than skipping them. What they forgot to factor in is that students are already giving the school all of their money.
The lottery process
The entire ticket lottery is a mess in itself. If students want the chance to watch games, they have to go to Memorial Coliseum for upwards of two hours to get a ticket where they have no idea if they’ll be sitting in the eRUPPtion Zone or in the upper level until the process even starts. I remember a situation a few years ago when I was a sophomore, where four of my friends and I went to the lottery at Memorial for a package of non-conference games. We were the second to last group out of 30-plus groups that selected tickets. We waited two hours to do so and the only tickets remaining were ones in the upper level. We knew rather quickly that we were the second to last group but had to wait anyway if we wanted to get our tickets (which we did). We went to the very next lottery and once again were the second to last group. We decided to leave instead of waiting.
This is something that could be solved with an online lottery system, which is more than manageable in 2017. The fact that Kentucky is still behind on this is part of the issue.
The reason we left had a lot to do with the fact that we knew what we were getting into. Since we were second to last, we would most likely receive upper-level seats to watch four non-conference games where the only marquee matchup was against the University of Texas (which Kentucky won in a route). Even if we were lucky enough to be one of the first groups selected, the appeal of sitting in the eRUPPtion Zone isn’t spectacular.
Kentucky raised the price of tickets without enhancing the experience. There’s nothing new and special about standing in the eRUPPtion Zone that would warrant the added charge. The main appeal of the eRUPPtion Zone is watching the game, but games against Vermont aren’t what students want to stand and watch for two hours.
Here’s an idea: take a step back and maybe consider it’s the institution that has made poor decisions. I.e. asking students for more money with absolutely no change to experience. What do they get out of it for price increase?
— Kelsey Mattingly (@kelseyKSR) November 13, 2017
Basic economics. Higher price, lower demand. https://t.co/5Pbd2UG0TV
— Jay Winkler (@JayWinkKSR) November 13, 2017
“The lottery system is just too convoluted when there are far more productive ways to spend your time,” said Kentucky student and KSR writer, Jay Winkler.
“Tickets for a Kentucky basketball game, especially a good one, are pricey and difficult to get. It’s a steal to attend a Kentucky basketball games for 10 bucks, regardless the circumstances of getting the tickets,” said EKU student and KSR writer, Brent Wainscott. “With that said, the lottery seems like a broken system. Make the tickets first come first serve, like every other ticket in Rupp Arena. We also live in 2017, why should students have to wait at Memorial Coliseum for hours on end? Just conduct the ticket process online and give students the option to pick them up or have it emailed to them.”
But it’s not just students, overall attendance is down for early season games and it’s a trend that has been visible for years now. Since 2007, seven of the eight home games that have had attendance numbers below 21,000 have been in the month of November. Four of those games took place before the month of November was halfway over. Who did Kentucky play? Central Arkansas, Gardner-Webb, Stony Brook, Longwood, Texas-Arlington, Utah Valley, and Vermont. Essentially, when Kentucky plays a bad team early in the season, fans are less inclined to attend. Which makes sense given the fact that this years team has struggled. Fans don’t want to watch two bad teams play each other (or at least not in person when they can do so in the comfort of their own home, with the ability to occupy themselves with something else when things get dull). It’s not just students, fans in general don’t want to watch these games in person and why would they?
— Alex Holder (@Alex_Holder_KSR) November 10, 2017
*Friday’s game against Utah Valley. Lower level just as vacant as the student section*
Even Coach Calipari knows this team is not very good right now. Fans, media, and everyone else knows this team is simply just not where it will be come March. That isn’t the player’s fault, either. Kentucky operates in the one-and-done system and it just about always pans out in favor of the team by the time the tournament starts. But rarely does a Kentucky team composed almost entirely of freshmen jump out of the gate and rattle off 40-point wins in consecutive weeks. That just doesn’t happen, the team is always too young for that. I personally have no qualms about the one-and-done system and I think Calipari knows exactly what he’s doing, which is exactly why he’s been downplaying this team now and in the preseason. They’re just not good. If the coach himself is saying “I’ve got a noose around my neck. I’m holding on to a rope, my hands are bleeding, I’m kicking alligators and I’m coaching freshmen,” that sure doesn’t get me excited to watch them play, especially at a 100% ticket increase from last year.
There are 18 total games in Rupp Arena this season. So there are still 16 more opportunities for students to go to games and they know that. An incredibly young and struggling Kentucky team playing a mid-major school in early November at 3:30 on a Sunday is hardly appealing. If students have to choose between attending that game or squeezing in extra time to study as finals week inches closer and closer, it’s not exactly a difficult decision for them (Also, some of them may still be in Nashville following the football team’s win over Vanderbilt).
Unpopular opinion: the erupption zone sucks. Worst way I’ve ever viewed a game. Upper level>e-zone. https://t.co/lVRawgOfgZ
— Trey Huntsman (@TreyHuntsmanKSR) November 12, 2017
It’s also the week before Thanksgiving. Personally, I have four projects this week and don’t have the time.
— Trey Huntsman (@TreyHuntsmanKSR) November 12, 2017
Kentucky plays a difficult non-conference schedule this season with some of those games at home. Home games against Harvard, Virginia Tech, and Louisville (although a 1 p.m. game on a Friday isn’t an ideal time slot) will all have a much more different and thrilling atmosphere and students know that. SEC games will surely be full for the most part and this “issue” will become a non-issue by the time January rolls around. I feel this problem presents itself every year as the season gets underway, this is just the first year students are being called out by the masses. Students are being unfairly ridiculed because they happen to sit a concentrated area that makes it easy to notice when they don’t show up. This isn’t on them. This is because nothing has changed within the system.
Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan