Kentucky’s basketball team beat Arkansas-Little Rock last night at Freedom Hall, 73-51. It wasn’t much of a game, as the #2 Wildcats dispatched the Trojans playing hard for only half the game.
Only 14,747 fans were willing to shell out $45 to see this spectacle, which had to have been a disappointment to Coach John Calipari, who had used his powerful social media outlets to encourage local fans to show up, even promising he’d have his players stick around for autographs if the Hall was filled. He sent out this message to Big Blue Nation.
BBN, are we filling up Freedom Hall tonight? If you can do your part and bring us a win, we will sign autographs afterwards for 30 minutes.
The traditional offering to Jefferson County UK fans hasn’t been too enticing for a while now — UK’s cupcake games here averaged 13,450 fans in the last 7 years. Calipari and UK aren’t willing to waste a home game against a big-time opponent here, and Cal seems to expect fans to show up for the privilege of watching the Cats play. And Cal seems to think he can harangue fans into showing up for meaningless games against mediocre opponents at a big price.
The most publicized quote from Calipari was a veiled threat to local fans: “People have got to come to it and make it something they want us to do,” he said. “It’s hard to say ‘get us UCLA in there.’ Come on, you can’t.”
Calipari also said he knew that 24,000 would show up for the same game in Lexington. But diehard local UK’ers remember when the Cats brought in good Notre Dame teams. It’s different when it’s a glorified exhibition against a Sun Belt team.
Last night 8,200 basketball fans showed up for a U of L women’s game at the Yum Center. A bigger audience likely stayed home to watch the Cards play at St. John’s on TV. The value proposition for the UK game was low. Calipari and UK can’t expect to fill up Freedom Hall under the current set of circumstances, and it’s got to make more financial sense to play all its home games at Rupp.
Maybe it’s time to close the book on this tradition.