Kentucky Wildcats: Student Seating at Rupp and Commonwealth

Andy Lyons

There was a time, before Rupp Arena and Commonwealth Stadium were built, that students would stand in line on a first come first served basis to gain entrance to games. There were no lotteries and there were no tickets issued. You showed up and were in. It is a more complicated process today, but should it be?

Once upon a time a long, long time ago Memorial Coliseum was packed with students and all you needed to gain entry was a student ID at the gate an hour or so before the game. Getting in was pretty simple and both venues were on campus within easy walking distance from the residence halls and Greek housing.

McLean Stadium

Seating was never a problem at McLean stadium because the university set aside ample capacity for students, and. the nosebleeds at McLean did not compare to the second level at Commonwealth. There was no second level at McLean and there was no tailgating there either. You parked in the front and back yards at houses near the stadium from Rose Street as far east as Woodland Avenue and from Central Avenue north to Grovesnor Avenue for a reasonable fee.

Memorial Coliseum

Memorial only seated 12,000 before the last renovation, but it was the largest basketball venue in the SEC for many years. Student seating comprised almost half of one side of the arena and it was always full with the exception of the 13-13 (1966-67) season that Rupp had to endure. Only 10,800 showed up for the Tennesee game on January 23, 1967. During Joe B. Hall's 13-13 (1973-74) season, 10,800 showed up for the Tennesee game on February 16, 1974. At the last regular season game against Mississippi State, attendance at Memorial fell to 10,100. (Source: bigbluehistory.net)

To gain entry to Memorial, you had to stand in line on game day and in some instances the early birds would start the line the night before. For big games like North Carolina and Tennessee, the line would wrap around the building and they would let a few fans, both paying and students, into the Coliseum for standing room only. One game, when #2  North Carolina came to town in December, 1968 to play #3 Kentucky, the line wrapped around Memorial almost twice. I can tell you from personal experience that by the time you got into Memorial for a game, you were fired up because you were able to get in and pick your seat on a first come, first served basis. The earlier you got in line, the better your seat.

The Times, They are a'changin'

Today is a different era. Students have lost interest nationwide and student seating has become an issue even for schools like Alabama. At the football venues, you might understand the empty student seats at Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee are due to the football teams' records, but Florida had a lot of empty seats at the Swamp last week when Vanderbilt came to town. The SEC has hired a New York market research firm to study the trends and patterns for football attendance.

This is an epidemic across the land as evidenced at the website College AD/News and Resources for College Athletic Departments (collegead.org). There is an article that tells what various schools are trying to do to combat the epidemic and why they believe it is happening.

The article talks about Georgia, Alabama, and Oregon. It has a link to an article about how Michigan is attacking the problem. In basketball, all the SEC teams have had student seating issues for many, many years except when Kentucky makes a visit. Even when Kentucky comes to town, you tend to see a lot of Blue in the seats.

We are now, however, seeing a lot of empty student seats at Rupp Arena. Kentucky Sports Radio's Tyler Thompson made an attempt to explain the situation in this article. The article has a photo of an almost empty eRupption Zone. It seems to me that UK students may have a legitimate gripe about how they get their basketball tickets.

The other four Dynasty Schools

1.)    Even the puny Cameron Indoor Stadium (8,000 capacity) at Duke is having its problems as you can see in this ESPN Page2 article. On a bad night at Rupp, more than 1,200 students show up.

2.)    At the Dean Dome at North Carolina, there have been no articles regarding student attendance, but they are having other problems involving the NCAA. Attendance has declined for four consecutive years per ESPN although the student numbers weren't published.

3.)    At Kansas, Allen Fieldhouse led the Big 12 in attendance last year and  averaged 16,438 fans for its 18 home contests in the 16,300 seat arena. Obviously, student seating is not an issue. (Source: KU Athletics)

4.)    UCLA has student attendance issues as well. They hired a coach, Steve Alford, that no one seems to like, but student attendance has been on a steep decline for years as you can see here.

Maybe UK should revert back to how they did things at Memorial Coliseum and sell the unused seats to the general public at a discounted price with a higher price for the lower level seats, maybe $20 for upper level and $40 for lower level seats. Maybe UK should reduce the student seating capacity at both Commonwealth and Rupp and make them available as season tickets to the public. With the coming renovations, both venues are going to reduce seating capacity and I think that reduction should come from student seating. There is still a waiting list for seats at Rupp for season tickets. Sell them and reduce that list a little.  As for the eRupption Zone, I don't have any suggestions.

Maybe you do.

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