By LARRY VAUGHT
Athletics director Mitch Barnhart was asked about declining attendance nationally as college football games during UK’s Media Day last week.
It’s not just Kentucky where season ticket sales are declining. Some of the nation’s elite program face the same issue as fans often choose to watch games at home on TV either for convenience or to save money.
Barnhart admitted there are “concerns” about attendance and cited two issues
“There’s discretionary time and discretionary dollars for all fans in what they do, and the other is the way people by tickets in today’s world. With the way to buy available tickets on secondary markets, people are making the decision to not have a season ticket and just say, ‘I’ll just go ahead buy what’s available from someone else who is not going and catch it on a secondary market,'” Barnhart said.
“Well, that changes, obviously, the stable finances for programs that count on season tickets and that stability. Doesn’t mean you can’t tell the ticket, but it has to mean that you are selling it differently. So everyone is, I won’t say, freaking out, but they go, ‘Oh, my gosh, season ticket numbers are down!’
“They are sort of stagnant and down a lot of places and that’s not usual. Again, there’s programs that have had incredible success that are seeing numbers drop because the ticket-buying mechanism for a lot of folks is different.”
Give Barnhart credit for admitting schools have to find reasons to make fans want to come to games instead of watching on TV.
“Whether it’s an experience, a tailgate experience before the game where they can fellowship with their friends, where they get in there and there’s a competitive, enjoyable environment, where there’s music, there’s good play on the field and at the end of the day, there’s a safe way to get home; all those things are important,” Barnhart said. “So if you’re asking people to invest six, seven hours of the day, you’ve got to make sure that you do it right. ”
That’s certainly true.
But I think Barnhart got to the heart of the problem for many when it comes to length of games. Remember when games used to end in about three hours? That no longer happens. It’s normal for games to go 3 1/2 hours, maybe four hours. Barnhart knows that’s too long for most fans.
“We have to find a way to make sure the game stays within a certain time frame, and we know that fans want that. If you look at some of the popular sports that are out there in terms of television and what people are watching, it is length of game. It matters,” he said.
He noted how college softball is one of the fastest growing sports on television due in part to games lasting two hours or less.
“Sometimes those baseball games can go three, three and a half, four hours and people are turn it off around two. We know the watching span or attention span, we have to understand that,” Barnhart said. “We have to pay attention to all the things in the fan experience and make sure we are understanding the discretionary time and dollars of our fan base is changing.
“At the end of the day, you have to provide a really good product on the field but at the end of the day, you also have to be cognizant of those other pieces. ”