The 2018 season is fast approaching the University of Kentucky football team. This figures to be, by player rankings, one of the most talented teams the Wildcats have fielded. The team is coming off back-to-back bowl games and has winning streaks over SEC East foes South Carolina, Missouri and Vanderbilt. Yet, as the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Jen Smith reports, season ticket sales are down. This time last year, approximately 32,000 season tickets were sold. As of July 2018, about 28,000 tickets have been sold for the upcoming season. For a team returning 17 starters, including soon-to-be all-time leading rusher Benny Snell, the lack of excitement is palpable. But is it understandable?
As the Big Blue Nation saw during the 2017-18 season, not even Kentucky Basketball is immune to falling attendance numbers. Across the board, attendance at live sporting events is suffering. A big reason? Money. It’s simply getting more expensive to go to games, with ticket and concession prices constantly rising. Taking into account that the in-game experience isn’t quite what a 21st century fan might expect (seat size, poor internet connectivity), the cost-to-benefit analysis for a lot of folks leaves them at home. Televisions, with their increasing size and picture quality can tempt even the most diehard fans avoiding stadiums and arenas to root for their beloved team in the comfort of their own dens.
Kentucky Wildcat fans aren’t any different from the rest of college football. According to Andy Berg of athleticbusiness.com, the 2017 season was the lowest per-game attendance season in 20 years. College football attendance was 42,203 people per game, a drop of 1,409 from the previous season. In fact, since average attendance reached a record of 46,971 in 2008, it has been in steady decline for the last decade. It’s a bit unfair to point to the BBN and ask why aren’t people buying in or simply buying more tickets. Kentucky fans have shown, historically, that they will support the football Cats, even when the wins don’t surpass the losses. The NCAA tracks attendance numbers vs. capacity, to track how full each team’s stadium actually is. As recently as 2015, Kentucky averaged just over 60,000 fans per game which put the Cats near 90% of stadium capacity. The Wildcats averaged more people and were at a higher capacity percentage than in-state rival Louisville and were closer to being full than SEC foes South Carolina and Tennessee.
Obviously, head coach Mark Stoops and UK AD Mitch Barnhart would love to have more season tickets sold. Perhaps fans are being cautious about this year’s team, taking a wait-and-see approach to the season. The athletic department has upgraded Kroger Field to make it more fan friendly, which is certainly a step in the right direction. If the Cats want to make sure more of the BBN are in Lexington and inside the stadium on gameday, there’s one thing they can control: winning. The teams that are filling their stadiums are teams that are winning. It’s pretty simple, if you take care of business on the field, the fans will be there.