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Calipari on low attendance: “I get it”

The crowd in the upper deck of the Vermont game on November 12

There were plenty of empty seats at Rupp Arena last night, and while it’s easy to pinpoint the reasons why, there’s no denying that attendance this season is down. Through six home games, Kentucky’s attendance at Rupp has dropped almost 15% from last year’s average of 23,461. Even if you compare the numbers to six of the first seven home games last season (I omitted UCLA because it’s a marquee opponent), attendance is down 10%.

Average attendance through six home games in 2017-18: 20,092

  • Utah Valley: 19,807
  • Vermont: 20,174
  • ETSU: 20,168
  • Troy: 19,548
  • Fort Wayne: 20,645
  • UIC: 20,212

Last year (omitted UCLA because it’s a marquee opponent): 22,265

  • SFA: 22,683
  • Canisius: 22,009
  • Duquesne: 21,327
  • Cleveland State: 22,441
  • UT-Martin: 23,324
  • Valparaiso: 21,805

We’ve discussed the reasons why attendance is down this year ad nauseam: weak non-conference home schedule, terrible timing (Friday and Sunday games are not ideal), increase in student ticket prices, the convenience of watching on TV at home, and a general decline in interest in this year’s very young squad. When asked about it last night, John Calipari said he’s noticed the trend, but pointed out Kentucky still has the highest home attendance in the country (they’ve led the nation 19 of the past 22 seasons).

“Sunday at six,” Cal said when asked why there were a lot of empty seats last night. “TV. This is a fun team to watch and I think people will — they will come here. Our attendance is down and it’s really sad because we’re No. 1 in the country in attendance and — we’re No. 1 in the country in attendance. It’s kind of like you guys saying to me, ‘Cal, you only won by 22, can you tell me what’s wrong with the Cats?’ I think people will jump in and do it. And some of it is students — Sunday night. I’m not — we have a large student section and I think they’re trying to do something with some of the student tickets. But I get it. I mean there’s some games I don’t feel like coming and I got to come here anyway, geez.”

He echoed those comments on the radio a few minutes later.

“[The media] said we’re having low attendance. Attendance hasn’t been as high. Well, you’re right. We’re No. 1 in the country in attendance, we’re just not as high as we’ve been. That’s kind of like when we win by 16 and you people are mad we don’t win by 25. We’re No. 1 in attendance. And there are games I don’t feel like coming to, so I get it. The issue with us is never going to be our fans. That’s the strength of this program.”

Hopefully as the schedule levels out and conference play approaches, the numbers will go up. As Calipari said, this team is fun, and you really can see them progress from game to game.

Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

30 responses to “Calipari on low attendance: “I get it””

  1. TBW3011

    Well said by Cal. He could have easily alienated fans when commenting on this, but kudos to him. I don’t think most people agree this team has been fun though. Sunday’s game was the first time they’ve looked “fun” and I think that is a factor.

    1. az1006

      Yeah, but people didn’t know they wouldn’t be fun until the games were played, and guess what…People still didn’t show up. I don’t think that’s really it at all. There have been plenty of mediocre teams over the years, and people still packed Rupp regardless.

      I think it’s a combination of things…The odd game times, several games being packed into a short period, the lack of a marquee matchup, the Thanksgiving holiday, the ease of watching on TV, a general decline in sports attendance across the board…They all play a role. I noticed several games at the Maui Invitational had a lot of empty seats…That place is a crackerbox and is usually packed regardless of the teams playing.

      I read an article a few weeks ago that highlighted college basketball just on the ESPN family of networks…They only had I think 3 calendar days between now and the start of conference tournaments that had no college games televised. With rising ticket prices, lodging, gas, etc, going to a game is expensive, and when you can watch from home for nothing…It makes sense to a degree.

      Regardless, I think the attendance will pick up as we get into Decembe. The schedule really picks up, and then once we get into conference play (you’ve seen how good the SEC is), “bad games” will be very few and far between.

    2. unbridled

      Hard to argue with anything Az said.

    3. catdaddyd

      I blame that damn ribbon banner, it’s distracting as all get out.

    4. mcp157

      I am sure this trend will change as the season progresses but can’t help wonder how having a constant flow of new faces, and the inability to actually watch a player develop over at least 2 years, effects attendance.

  2. Sentient Third Eye

    At this point there’s little doubt left that the tremendous TV coverage we have these days is harming attendance. It’s just a sign of the times. Look at it this way: the teams got their money up-front when they signed TV deals rather than having to wait for fans to give it to them at the gate. Thus the cable company and ESPN become the de facto alternate “admission collectors” in the new model.

    1. az1006

      This is the primary reason…And it isn’t just college basketball, it’s sports in general. If the NFL, NBA, and college football are not immune, there’s no chance college basketball is.

    2. ukjaybrat

      so the only “real” solution is to make the cable deals worth more money to the schools and reduce ticket prices. if the experience is better at home, we shouldn’t pay more to go to the game. but the schools have to make their money. so cable companies will take the hit and everyone will pay for it over time. that’s where this is going imo

  3. BlueDew

    Where are all those fans that were giving the students hell and saying they would give whatever to get into games. Hypocrites.

    1. ukjaybrat

      to be fair, i think most of them (myself included) were saying i would pay $10 in a heartbeat.
      those empty nosebleeds up there are still $65 minimum. that’s quite a bit considering i have to drive from louisville, park, dinner, babysitter, etc. I personally am looking at well over $250 for a single game for me and my wife. and that’s lowballing it.
      Gas: $25
      Parking: $20
      Dinner: $50
      Babysitter: :30
      Tickets: $130
      Total: $255

      or we could pay none of that, stay home, cook dinner, no sitter, no gas, no tickets, no parking. the only cost is what we paid at the grocery for dinner… so about $10-$15

      I’m not saying i like the fact that there are empty seats… but … I get it.

  4. dballrb

    Hey,I’ll take a seat.Thats one less bench # to worry about. Wow,how it’s come down to mundane matters.

  5. BlueDew

    Where are all those FANS that bashed the students and would gladly buy tickets to attend? Let’s log all those empty seats and take them away from those ticket holders and sell them to those FANS that want to go. How dare students refuse to attend for whatever reason and regular fans doing the same. Hypocrisy at it best!

  6. Rod Crandler

    This is why you see all the upgrades to arenas going on. If you want to encourage people to turn off their 65inch HD TV and drive an hour in the cold, pay for parking & tickets, walk five blocks to the arena and pay $6 for a soft drink and sit on a metal bleacher you need to make the experience more than just watching the game which is what you can do at home. It’s just the reality of the situation.

    1. MegatonRange

      This is why you see all the upgrades to arenas going on. If you want to encourage people to turn off their 65inch HD TV and drive an hour in the cold, pay for parking & tickets, walk five blocks to the arena and pay $6 for a soft drink and sit on a metal bleacher you need to make the experience more than just watching the game which is what you can do at home. It’s just the reality of the situation.
      My goodness cupcake, that’s just a nightmare list of impediments to prevent you from going to a basketball game! It makes what those young men faced, who waded ashore on D-Day, seem like a walk in the park.

  7. Trueblue7

    Cal doesn’t get it. Who wants to pay $60-70 for tickets in the upper level to watch Cupcake State

    1. Kernel Sanders

      ^ Exactly. The article mentions increased prices for student tickets. ALL ticket prices went up. Again. Cal wants the neutral site games. Fine. The Rupp crowd is stuck with, as you said, $75 per ticket for Directional State U games.

    2. MegatonRange

      And if they played & lost to Kansas, Indiana, Duke or North Carolina, you’d be wanting to fire Calipari!

    3. Eazy

      I’d rather play IU than Vermont. IU would be an easier win. And we do play Kansas, Duke and NC on a regular basis. We also play UCLA almost every year now. Add in Louisville, VT, WV and a much improved SEC and we’ve got a very difficult schedule.

  8. Angelo

    Cal should have blamed the 2-3 zone…

  9. trevuk2k

    Everyone needs to chill. Cal is right. We are still number 1 in the country in attendance. We are still loud and proud in the arena. Once conference play starts no one will even remember there being a couple thousand less people than last year’s numbers because it will be packed like normal. It comes down to this. If you love kentucky basketball, you will try to go. But just because you can’t make it to every game doesn’t mean you don’t love kentucky basketball. It more than likely means you have bills, and kids, and life to take care of. Go Cats!!!!

  10. bharlan24

    I have lost interest because UK is in now a taxi squad for the NBA. Cal will not win another Championship for UK. I don’t just not go to games anymore, I don’t watch on TV or listen on the radio. I come to KSR after the game is over.

    I’ve been a fan since 1948 when Rupp won the first Championship in 1948. To me its about getting to know the guys over long periods of time.

    Plus, last year Cal lost the the game to UNC because he was not ready to call the time out when Monk’s shot went up.

    I could go on. I still am a UK fan and I still like Cal. Time to recruit good players and develop them to a championship team.

    The answer to what has happened to the schools like UL these past years , is to let the kids go to the NBA right out of HIgh School. I know the NBA is in charge of this situation.

    I don’t really know why I’m writing this. I guess because of what has happened at UL and also the Mess at UNC. The NCAA, is gutless. But, sports in general is also.

    I know this is a discombobulated mess. But, it’s what I’ve been thinking.

    Wake me up when UK has won another championship.

    1. J-Dub421

      If you don’t get to know the players, that’s on you. Today’s players are extremely accessible via social media and I know them a lot better than players in the past. Your refusal to adapt to new technology is on you.

  11. Sergeant

    This this is the first year where the complete player turnover is starting to cause me to lose interest. After 30 years of being absolutely consumed with UK basketball, I cannot even name all the players this year and am far more interested in football. Totally shocks even myself.

    1. bharlan24

      J-Dub421, I have nothing against these young men. Like I said earlier I am a UK fan and always will be . I have lost interest in what’s going on because they are here today and gone tomorrow. I do not blame them for doing what’s is best for them. That is what we all do. I just don’t care for the process. I don’t believe you can produce a championship that way. 2012 had some veterans to go along with some really great freshman.

    2. plumloopy

      I’m with you. I have no investment in these guys and they have no investment in UK past April if they get their way. Literally, the top 8 guys would all walk if they could. The top 8 guys HOPE they won’t be at UK next year. I can take 2 or 3 1-and-doners, but there are six this year with another two sophs who would have jumped ship if things had gone better last year and hope to do so this year. In fact if Gabriel or K-Jones don’t get more PT, they’ll probably transfer.

      I’ll get into this team come January but I’m tired of having to apologize practically for the ridiculous merry go round of players. I didn’t even care that we lost to Kansas. How many GD times do I have to hear “youngest team ever?!” Grayson Allen may be a d**k, but he’s a senior… and a GOOD senior. Not only is Duke beating us to the cream of the crop, they’re successfully supplementing with solid upperclassmen.

      All the recent great teams, even of the Cal era, had great returning players, even if they were sophs. This team doesn’t even have that. They will crash out in the sweet 16 and KSR will be trying to hype us up about the next #2 class of kids stopping by for seven months.

  12. 3 fan

    My 2 cents
    1. The schedule. It’s terrible. And we struggled with some of them. That schedule is sad. No one cares

    2. Talent. Sorry but talent level on this team is not what the fans are used too. Only one top 5 ranked recruit since Antiqua left. This team has several players but outside Knox not that great

  13. Rabbi Li

    Much of the speculation misses the heart of the matter (and over values things that aren’t really factors).

    This is a money crunch… plain & simple.

    – People have never had rent this high while still getting paid wages from 2002.
    – People have never had school tuitition & books cost 2 to 3 times what they did in 2002.
    – After 8 years of the dismantling of America… now under Trump the job market is getting better but wages are still stagnant.
    – Ticket prices continue to go up…

    This isn’t really even a problem for anyone but the business selling it’s product. The institution (University of Kentucky) is simply ‘overvalued’ in financial terms. They are overplaying their ‘sports’ hand with aggressive price increases not taking into consideration financial liquidity of the fan base and the end result (less fans in the stands) is proof of the misvaluation of it’s offering.

    1. catdaddyd

      Wages are coming back bigtime. I can’t get anyone for less than $20 hr. That’s for unskilled labor. With so many people getting food stamps, free insurance, and Obama phones why would they work.

    2. Rabbi Li

      catdaddy… no one is buying season tickets on $40K a year ($20 an hour).

  14. HackRichards

    East Kentucky Coal Miners used to purchase those empty seats…Now they are all unemployed trying to feed their families. Thanks to the political faction who hated coal but loved the coal severance tax they received for decades…