Okay, I've had this discussion with Larry Glover recently, and now we have a full blown article by Eamonn Brennan over at ESPN.com about the recent decline in Kentucky basketball attendance. It's worth discussing, I think, although I don't really have much in the way of brilliant insights to offer. As much as anything, this piece is to get your feedback and opinion on why attendance at Rupp Arena in the Era of Cal might be slipping.
But, still, the numbers are there, and they are undeniable. The most interesting question is: Why? Clay's theories -- "television, or the lack of an enticing home schedule, or a lack of connection with the ever-changing roster, or the students" -- seem to represent the general consensus among Kentucky fans, at least those who responded to John on Facebook. There is also a fair amount of understandable frustration regarding this season's disappointing team -- frustration Calipari attempted to assuage in a blog post Tuesday morning:
I know we have to be more organized, our mission has to be clearer to the players, and I have to be less emotional during the game because we’ve got a bunch of young kids. I can’t put winning before their growth. … This is about getting these players to think a different way, to think about serving each other. My job is to serve them. Their job is to serve each other. …. I just have to stay patient and continue loving them as I challenge them and raise the bar -- no easy task when you’re dealing with 18-year-olds. These are good kids. They want to learn. We are going to be fine. Just remember it’s a process. Enjoy the ride, Big Blue Nation, because we need you.
First of all, does anyone really think that fans are not attending games because Kentucky has been "disappointing?" I mean, it's possible that you could consider the three losses, none of which occurred in Rupp Arena a rougher start than we had planned, but for me, at least, "disappointing" is a bit harsh.
With that said, I think if Kentucky had won all three, you might see more people coming due to the whole 40-0 idea still being alive, and wanting to be part of that history. But my suspicion is that once that got tamped down by the Michigan St. loss, those sorts of history-buffs lost motivation, which tells you that in any normal given season, these sorts of fans wouldn't have shown up much anyway.
I do think Calipari's determination to play games against major opponents, other than the North Carolina Tar Heels and Louisville Cardinals, in neutral venues that are not part of the season ticket package has a big part to play, especially since Kentucky's other opponents have been significantly weaker than the Wildcats and don't offer much of a reason to go out of your way to attend. Also, season ticket holders might just choose to attend only the better games, since the games against uncompetitive teams like Northern Kentucky UNC Asheville just aren't going to excite many people. When the best home games of the non-conference season other than Louisville or North Carolina on alternating years are Boise St. and Belmont, you aren't going to see ticket demand skyrocket.
This is not intended to impugn either one of those worthy foes, but let's be honest here: Kentucky fans want to see bigger games. I think it's very easy to sit home and watch your big-screen, drink nice cold beer that doesn't cost $8 a pop (when you can get beer at all, that is), and have to go through a pat-down to get int to the arena with a ticket you paid $40 for to sit in the just-below-the-nosebleeds section. That's a lot of aggravation to watch what is likely to be an uncompetitive contest.
So I think competition is a big thing. I think the increasing level of pre-seating aggravation is another. I think ticket prices are an issue, and I think better coverage and technology by the media is yet another factor. I'm not sold on the idea of a "disappointing" start, but I'll say that could be a peripheral issue. I suppose for good measure you could throw in the revolving door for freshmen, although that didn't seem to quell excitement in 2012. And who knows, maybe Calipari is paying a price for the under-performance of last year's squad when combined with the slower start than hoped for this season.
So at this point, I'll throw it out to you, Big Blue Nation. Why do you think Rupp Arena attendance is down?