Posted on Mon, Jan. 29, 2007
UK increases ticket prices, expects complaints
By Jerry Tipton
HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITER
Kentucky fans must pay higher ticket prices in each of the next three football seasons, and some basketball fans will have to pay a one-time higher price for tickets, plus a higher fee to keep so-called “priority” seats.
The University of Kentucky Athletics Association board of directors was set to approve those cost increases Monday. The price increases, which will go into effect beginning with the 2007 football season, marked the first increases since 2003.
Likening the move to a tax increase, Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart acknowledged that the increases won’t be popular, but he said they were necessary to help UK build a broad-based sports program in the ultracompetitive Southeastern Conference.
“When the governor raises taxes, those aren’t popular days,” Barnhart said. “When we raise ticket prices, these probably aren’t popular days. But I hope, in total, when people look at it and they look at where we are with respect to the rest of the league … I hope they’ll look back and say there is value.”
In its presentation to the athletics board, UK officials noted that Kentucky’s prices remain well within the range charged by similar programs including Duke, North Carolina, Indiana and Kansas.
The cost increases are meant to give fans incentive to buy season tickets because those ticket prices are increasing at a slower rate than single-ticket prices.
Barnhart said he anticipated a 5 percent increase in revenue from the price increases. The money will go toward paying rising tuition rates, increased travel costs and higher coaching salaries, he said.
Barnhart noted how the increases in 2003 paid off in team performance. He cited first-ever SEC championships in baseball, men’s golf and women’s tennis.
He also said Kentucky does not want to lead the league in money raised. For example, the $100 increase in the required donation to the K Fund for the right to buy a “priority” seat ticket will not move UK beyond 10th among 12 SEC teams in such seat fund-raising, school officials said. The priority seats are those with better views.
There will not be an increase in the K Fund contribution for football “priority” seats because the university is trying to reward football fans for their loyalty and attendance over the years. Also, charges can be increased for basketball because demand for tickets is higher, according to athletic staff.
When asked about the UK football or basketball fan who did not wish to subsidize other teams, Barnhart said he had been ordered by UK president Lee Todd to create a rewarding experience for all Kentucky athletes.
“By law, we’re mandated to provide opportunities for women athletes,” Barnhart said, “but that’s the right thing to do. That might not feel good for everybody.”
Barnhart said all UK fans cheered the baseball team’s success last spring and golfer J.B. Holmes’ triumphs.
“Is it worth it? I’m sure some will say no,” Barnhart said. “All I can say is we’ll continue providing broad-based opportunities for excellence.”
As for fan complaints about the price increases, Barnhart said, “At least we got it out there. Everybody can complain appropriately and go from there.”
The success of the 2006 football team did not affect the decision to raise prices, Barnhart said. Consideration of raising prices is an ongoing concern, he said, and began in earnest last summer.
“If we don’t do certain things and you don’t have the money, then something else may have to go,” he said. “Then you have to drop things, and that’s not a position you want to be in.”
Barnhart acknowledged that the price increases will come at a time when some UK fans grumble about men’s basketball. The school’s marquee program finds itself in the unusual position of being out of the national top 25 and not dominant in the SEC.
“All I can say is we want the same thing everybody else wants,” Barnhart said. “There’s not one person who comes to work who doesn’t want the same thing as the fans. …
“We understand the mantle and what’s expected and we’re going to work hard to get there. Their desires and expectations are warranted.”
Barnhart strongly denied that the ticket increases will put more pressure on coaches, particularly Rich Brooks in football and Tubby Smith in basketball, to win.
It was “a ridiculous deal to say there’s more pressure now,” Barnhart said. “It’s irrelevant. It’s just pressure. … There’s no more pressure on them than what they put on themselves.”