This morning’s news that the new renovations to Rupp Arena will reduce capacity from 23,500 to 20,500 has been met with mixed reaction from fans; here’s why it’s actually good for Kentucky basketball.
Kentucky only sold out two games last year
Last year, Kentucky averaged 21,875 fans at home games, a seven percent drop from the previous season and by far the lowest in the Calipari era. This is due to a lot of factors — one-and-done fatigue, late game times, a lack of marquee home opponents — but there’s no denying that attendance is down at games nationwide, an epidemic we’ve covered ad nauseam on this site. As HD TVs get bigger, better, and cheaper and the SEC doesn’t allow everyone to drink at games, that trend isn’t going to end anytime soon. According to official figures (which are always inflated), Kentucky only sold out TWO games last season (Louisville and Florida), and attendance only eclipsed the 23,000 mark five times. Attendance didn’t even meet the new capacity of 20,500 for five games. Empty seats have become a common sight at Rupp, and fewer seats means fewer empty seats, which is a good thing.
One possible casualty of the diminished capacity? Bragging rights. The loss of seats will drop Rupp Arena from the second largest arena in college basketball to the sixth, meaning fans will need to fill the building each game to keep the program No. 1 in average home attendance, a title Kentucky’s won 20 of the last 23 years.
The upper level gets a much-needed upgrade
All seats located along the sidelines in sections 211-217 and 228-234 will be upgraded from bleachers to chairback seating. Anyone who’s watched a game from the upper level of Rupp Arena will agree that this is long overdue. The bleachers in the upper level are painful for even the spryest of backs and elbow room is non-existent. Everyone likes to complain about how UK only rewards rich fans through its renovations, but this upgrade is for the program’s most loyal supporters.
Ticket prices are NOT going up
Another common misconception online is that UK is raising ticket prices to pay for the renovations. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Ticket prices will remain the same, and if you want access to the new club areas, you’ll be able to purchase a separate package, which is the only way around the SEC’s no-alcohol at games policy.
Most of the seats will probably come from the student section
The 3,000 lost seats will come from a mixture of students, staff, and single-game tickets, not season tickets. How UK will divvy that up isn’t finalized yet, but I would bet money that most of the seats will come from students, who have failed to fill their allotment the past several seasons; at the risk of getting into another debate about student tickets, this is totally fair. We’ve said for years that if students don’t use those seats, they’ll lose them, and it looks like that’s about to happen for the greater good.
If you want to scalp tickets, you’ll still be able to
Fewer tickets could lead to a price increase on third-party sites and I can see how that might upset the average fan; however, with attendance continuing to plummet at games nationwide, tickets will still be there for the taking, and for a little extra money, your chances of watching the Cats from a comfortable seat (and maybe even with club area access) are way better than they were before.
Rupp Arena is one of the best venues in college basketball, but it’s time to catch up with the times. Change isn’t always bad.