Tonight we got our first taste of Rupp Arena in COVID times, and, like everything, it was weird. Only 3,075 people were allowed in the building for Kentucky’s opener vs. Morehead State, but they were accompanied by roughly 800 cardboard fan cutouts, the proceeds of which go to the Ev’ry Wildcat scholarship fun. John Calipari was so impressed by the cutouts he wants to fill Rupp with them until it’s safe for more fans to attend. In fact, he wants 10,000 of them in the seats.
“What was the attendance?” Calipari asked Kentucky Basketball SID Eric Lindsey. “12,000? What did it end up being? [Lindsey: ‘3,075’] How many cards? [Lindsey: ‘800’] Let’s get it to 10,000.”
Yesterday, Calipari posted a picture of the team posing with the cutouts at shootaround, which, for now, serves as a very small taste of the Kentucky Basketball experience.
“When we came in yesterday and I saw all the cutouts with people’s faces on them, the team went nuts. They said, ‘Did people buy these? These people are crazy!’ And then they went up there and sat with them in the crowd and I looked and I said, ‘What a great idea by our university, by our athletic administration.’
“Here’s what I would say now. Why don’t we try to sell out that? And I said, going forward, Ellen and I will match whatever money they raise. So, if you want to buy a $1,000 seat on the floor, they have those. If you want to buy a $350 seat in the first row with your kids and all that, a $70 seat, cheaper than that, Ellen and I are going to match whatever you pay.”
This was Terrence Clarke’s first game in Rupp, and although 3,000 real people and 800 cardboard versions is a far cry from a sellout crowd, he also appreciated the gesture.
“Just knowing that we have a lot of support system here. I think I knew that coming in here, that Big Blue [Nation], you all are the best fanbase in the world right now and just knowing that they’re there, even in spirit with the cutouts, it’s lovely. When you look in the fan section and it feels like people are there. It’s just fun.
The cutouts range from $70 (standard seating) to $1,000 (tunnel area). You can get them signed by Calipari for an additional $100.
“When I said we’ll match the money, I’m hoping no one buys any,” Cal joked later. “But I’m saying, why don’t we got and let’s get 10,000 and have people say, only at Kentucky. And they’re $70. Christmas presents. Give them for Christmas. Put your kids in the stands. We’ll do a surround so that everybody can see it and it’ll be all over ESPN, like, these dudes are crazy in this town. Buy them. Let’s get 10,000.”