If you’ve read the website, listened to the show, or simply seen any of UK’s home games this year, then you know that student ticket sales have declined drastically. Low student attendance at games is a growing problem nationwide, but it wasn’t until it started affecting the crowd at Rupp Arena that Kentucky fans really sat up and took notice. Although tickets are only $5, for some games this season, the student sections at Rupp haven’t just been partially empty, they’ve been mostly empty, including the eRupption Zone. The fallout of the low attendance has started an interesting debate between fans on Twitter and our comments section, so what better way to fully examine the problem than go straight to the source: the students. I asked some of our writers who are students to give their opinions, along with Vincent Swope (aka Referee Guy) and John Astle (aka Fake Barney, the first student ever in the eRupption Zone). I also called DeWayne Peevy, UK’s Deputy Director of Athletics, to get the scoop on the UK student ticketing process and the university’s thoughts on the low student attendance.
First, let’s go over the current process for students to get tickets to UK games:
THE CURRENT STUDENT TICKETING SYSTEM
Because of anticipated lower demand, for all of the games so far and every one until the end of the year (excluding Louisville) and the Mississippi State game on January 8th, student tickets have simply been distributed from the UK ticket office instead of the lottery process. All students have to do is come to the ticket office 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, show their ID, give $5, specify whether or not they’d like an eRupption Zone ticket or regular ticket, and that’s it. A day after they are offered to students, students can go back and buy tickets for a non-student guest to sit with them in the student sections at the regular face value ($42/$50). All unclaimed student tickets then go on sale that night or the next day to the general public for face value. So far this year, the student ticket sales for these games has been shockingly low, which Peevy admits may be in part because students don’t receive email notifications about the ticket distributions like they do for the lotteries.
For bigger games, tickets are distributed via the lottery system, which has undergone some changes during the Cal tenure. Peevy told me that over Cal’s years as coach, the demand for student tickets grew so much that thousands of fans were coming to Memorial Coliseum to get tickets, and because there weren’t enough, leaving empty handed. Student organizations proposed an online registration system for the lottery, which would allow students to register to be a part of it to ensure they get tickets. To participate, students register online for the lottery, and if they “win,” they are invited to attend the lottery to get tickets. Lotteries take place on Monday nights, and students file in, receive their lottery numbers (1-32, grouped by the hundred), and wait for their number to be called. The numbers are randomly called throughout the night, at which time students take their number, ID, and $5 to the ticket windows to get their tickets. Designated windows sell eRupption Zone tickets until they run out.
If there are any tickets left after the lottery process, they’re put on sale at the ticket office on a first come-first serve basis the next morning. The day after that, students can buy guest tickets, and any remaining will be put on sale to the general public that evening.
(For more information regarding UK Student Ticketing Procedures, including lottery dates, on-sale times, etc. click here.)
Is it a confusing process? Yes, but it doesn’t completely explain why students aren’t coming to games. Here are five of their complaints, and some suggestions on how to solve them:
FIVE STUDENT COMPLAINTS AND HOW TO SOLVE THEM
1. The lottery system is unfair
Lotteries take place on Monday nights, and some people complain they last way too long (sometimes up to 4.5 hours), causing conflicts with other activities such as Fraternity/Sorority meetings, homework, or part-time jobs. Also, because the numbers are called randomly, it doesn’t always reward students who show up the earliest. For example, students who were among the first 100 to arrive receive the number one, but their number might not be called until the end of the night, whereas the last people to arrive (32), could be called first.
– Keep the lottery, but do away with the random number calling so those who arrive earliest are rewarded with the best seats
– Go a step further and develop a rewards system to give students who regularly attend games or arrive early at lotteries the best seats. As Wilder Treadway put it, “The worst person to run into at a men’s basketball game is someone who can’t even tell you who John Calipari is.” Under the current system, those who may not know a thing about basketball have an equal chance of getting the best seats as the person who reads KSR religiously. This could easily be implemented by keeping a record of whenever each student swipes their ID at the door.
– Distribute tickets solely online, eliminating the need for a lottery. The problem with that? Fake Barney argues that it eliminates the most loyal and loud fans from getting the best seats:
“The problem with making it online or making students not show up for the lottery is you have AWFUL fans there. You think it’s bad now?! Every person who actually showed up for games would be that girl who wore a pink UK hoodie instead of Kentucky Blue. The lottery weeds out the true fans in the best way we knew how–I’m sorry but I don’t want some idiot on the front row of the UNC game who didn’t have to do anything but check their email to get tickets.”
– Distribute tickets the day of at Rupp Arena or Memorial on a first-come, first-serve basis. To discourage scalping, give students bracelets with their section and seat number printed on them so they aren’t as easy to sell to their fellow students (apparently this is a legit problem).
2. Some people just don’t want to sit in the eRupption Zone
The eRupption Zone may be UK’s “flagship” student section, but to some students, it’s the last place they want to sit (Wilder Treadway calls it his “own personal hell”). Why? There’s no seating, and therefore poor views if you’re not tall, and according to our panel, the cheers are “dumb, corny, and awkward.” Team Wildcat, a student group, organizes the eRupption Zone cheers, but says they don’t have the funding to provide eRupption Zone t-shirts, signs, or fatheads (the ones you’ve seen have been purchased by Referee Guy and other private donors). Also, because the marquee games are split into three separate lotteries, there are often new students in the eRupption Zone every three or four games, which makes it hard for cheers to “stick.”
— Someone get Team Wildcat some money. Whether it be the University allotting money or the organization holding fundraisers, the group’s hands are tied if they don’t have resources. However, it doesn’t take money to teach creative cheers, which brings me to my next suggestion…
— Teach cheers during the lottery. It’ll also make it go by faster.
— Sell all unclaimed eRupption Zone tickets to the public. The University already does this for games over Thanksgiving and Christmas break, and according to Peevy, they’re considering doing it for every game going forward. Today, K-Fund 110% club members received an email offering them the opportunity to buy eRupption Zone tickets for $5 each for the Cleveland State and Eastern Michigan Games. Peevy added that they only want to do that for the eRupption Zone because if they sold the other unclaimed student tickets for less than face value, it wouldn’t be fair to season ticket holders.
3. No transportation from campus to games
Another complaint from students is there isn’t a shuttle between campus and Rupp Arena during games. While us older folk who walked uphill to school both ways like to roll our eyes at this, a shuttle could entice more students to make the trek to Rupp without worrying about parking or sobriety. A shuttle from campus to Rupp actually used to exist, but due to low ridership (1% of the students who went to games), it was discontinued. Peevy said that if there is enough interest, they will discuss bringing it back. Until then, bundle up and walk.
4. The placement of the student sections suck
Ahh, the ultimate student complaint. The students get lower level and upper level sections, along with the eRupption Zone behind one basket. As Fake Barney will tell you, even getting that was a hassle:
“The eruption zone took a freaking act of congress–displaced fans were PISSED my freshman year. And why would UK give us an awesome student ring around the lower level and a second e-zone at the other end if we cant even fill up what we have now? ”
Gotta give the point to Fake Barney here. Until students fill up their sections, it’s hard to build an argument for them getting even more prime seating. Even then, you’d have the season ticket holders to deal with.
5. I’d rather stay at home and watch on my TV
This a growing sentiment among all sports fans, not just students. Arenas across the country are emptying because people would rather sit at home with their HDTVs, beer, and sweatpants. However, I would argue that students have a unique responsibility to the team, particularly the eRupption Zone. Peevy expressed concern that if students choose to stay at home instead of coming to games, they will do the same when they’re young alumni and later on when they have kids, meaning that a whole generation of fans will be “lost.”
Referee Guy confided that certain players on the team have complained to him about the vibe in Rupp Arena at times, saying that they wished fans would be louder, more involved, etc. They feed off the crowd’s energy. For example, Referee Guy said that he and some of the players would joke around about the Cousin Terio dance over the summer, which led to him getting the Terio fathead this season. He held it up after a Julius Randle dunk during a recent game and Julius pointed to it and smiled, telling him later that it got him hyped. Now, it’s tradition.
You can’t get that kind of player/fan interaction by sitting on the couch, nor can you have an impact on the game. For those who cling to this argument, maybe it is best if you stay home. KSR writer Courtney Sealey, who attends Marshall, agrees:
“As a student at a university where it’s a good year if we at least have more wins than losses, I would kill to be able to have the opportunities the UK student body does. I would kill to be able to tell my children that I was witness to every home game at a school like Kentucky. Tickets to an elite program are given to them for a low cost, a cost which they will never be able to get again once they graduate, and yet it is nearly impossible for fans who respect the program more to get tickets, unless they have money.”
After speaking to all sides, I can tell you this is a legitimate problem that the University wants to solve. Another solution to low ticket sales that Peevy suggested was reorganizing the lottery system so that marquee games, such as Louisville, Florida, etc., are placed with less popular games to increase attendance. However, that doesn’t stop students from scalping those tickets or just not showing up.
The floor’s yours.